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History of Artist Thomas Hudson
Thomas Hudson, the painter of' the portrait Sir Thomas Aston III and His Sisters, Purfroy and Mrs. Harvey, which is reproduced here, was an interesting figure in the annals of British portrait painting. He is chiefly remembered because he was the teacher of the great Sir Joshua Reynolds, and since the style of Reynolds was so different from that of Hudson, the tendency has been to neglect the earlier master for the later. However, there has been a new interest shown in the earlier members of the British School, and a growing appreciation of their more formal manner, which often produces a portrait interesting for its stylistic restraint and decorative effect.
Thomas Hudson was born in 1701 in Devonshire and was taught by Jonathan Richardson author of a Treatise on Painting which greatly influenced Reynolds. Hudson ran away with one of Richardson's daughters and married her without her father's consent. The father there upon would not give: his daughter a dowry and thus laid the foundation for financial difficulties endured by the young pair. In London Hudson took a house in Great Queen Street and became the rival of Charles Jervas, the leading portrait painter of the day. After he became successful Hudson used to visit Bideford in Devonshire yearly, and in 1740 he came in contact with young Reynolds, who considered himself very fortunate when Hudson consented to take him as an apprentice. There have been many stories told of Hudson's jealousy of Reynolds when he observed the talent of his young pupil, but it seems there is little foundation in the accounts of the estrangement between them, leading to Hudson's sending the voting man away. One story is that Reynolds did not perform an errand for his master one rainy day because he did not want to go out in the bad weather, and Hudson made this a pretext for dismissing him, his real reason being that he feared the superior talent of Reynolds. Whatever the cause of' the separation, the father of Reynolds wrote afterwards to a friend that he was perfectly satisfied with the actions of both parties, and was always grateful for what Hudson had done for his son, and when Hudson met Reynolds in Italy in 1752 they were on friendly terms. Hudson criticized a portrait by Reynolds painted after his return to England, telling him that he painted better before he went to Italy. This has been interpreted as a prejudice on Hudsonís part, and yet that very painting, when it came up at auction in recent years, did not fetch the high price that most paintings by Reynolds do. Hudson was probably right, as Revnolds' real freedom of style, and line sense of color had not yet reached its full expression. At the height of his popularity, 1741)-1750, Hudson had a constant stream of sitters at, his house in Great Queen Street, and like most painters of his day, employed a drapery painter. That is, he painted the faces and hands, and employed a specialist who executed the costumes, in this case the Flemish artist Van Haecken, of whom he painted an excellent portrait. Kneller and other painters used this system of employing drapery painters, and there was a tendency to develop the portrait along "factory"' lines, which Hogarth, being a great realist, much deplored. Hogarth attacked Hudson especially for following this practice and inferred that he was unable to paint the details of a portrait. This has done the reputation of Hudson a great deal of harm, and is not justified, for anyone who could paint heads as well as Hudson could certainly have executed any other part of a portrait.
Hudson was a great collector of drawings and paintings by old masters and fancied himself as an expert on Rembrandt. According to Whitley's Artists and their friends in England, on one occasion he offended the artist, Wilson, by securing a print by Rembrandt at a sale which he, Wilson, very much wanted. Wilson determined to make sport of Hudson's claim to connoisseurship and carefully faked a Rembrandt etching, which he arranged to have offered to Hudson, and Hudson promptly bought, declaring it was the finest Rembrandt he had ever seen. Wilson then faked a few more and sold them all to prominent collectors and then determined the hoax had gone far enough. Hogarth was in on the secret and the two invited all the victims, twenty-three in number, to a dinner, called an "English roast." When the meat was served it was stuck full of skewers, on each of which was an impression of one of the fake etchings. Hogarth noticed that Hudson did not seem to realize what they were so he pulled one off and presented it to him. The rest of the company laughed and took it all as a good joke, but Hudson was furiously angry and refused to see any humor in the situation. Hudson's quick temper is also recorded on other occasions but he does not seem to have cherished a spirit of ill-will towards anyone. His neighbor at his country place at Twickenham was an attorney, Joseph Hickey, whose son, William, wrote a book of memoirs in which is recalled his boyhood impression of Hudson. "Hudson's figure was rather grotesque, uncommonly low in stature. He was remarkably good tempered and one of my first-rate favorites, notwithstanding he often told me I should come to be hanged. I was always playing my monkey tricks on him and thereby getting into disgrace." One day, young William saw the artist leaning far forward with his full weight on his cane. "This was too much of a temptation and the boy ran forward, knocked the cane out from under him, and Hudson fell full length on the ground. "The infuriated painter rose and threw his cane at the fleeing boy but missed him. However. he accepted William's apologies, and the next day they were as good friends as ever.
Hudson's country place was at Twickenham not far from London, and was very handsome. In 1760 a visitor wrote: "It is situated in the happiest spot imaginable; though small, its beauties are numerous and striking; the nicest judge might examine this little museum and not be able to discover a fault. The house stands in a lawn of the finest and most verdant turf, close to which runs the river, always full, smooth and clear; on the right hand of the lawn is a little shrubbery where bloom every fragrant flower and many curious exotics. In the house there is one chamber filled entirely with prints; another room is furnished with pictures, all perfect of their kind; there is a Holy Fantily by Raphael and Rembrandt's head of inestimable value. There is also a bed-chamber hung with blue paper of the softest and most delicate tint, adorned with sketches and drawings by the most eminent masters, and surrounded by a border of papier mache gilt."
To this idyllic retreat he brought his second wife, Mrs. Fynes, whom he married in 1770, a lady who was possessed of an ample fortune, so that his declining years were very comfortable. After he retreated from London and left the field to the "new" men, Reynolds and Gainsborough.