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Portrait of Captain John Wood(s)
? late 1770s
Graphite on paper
Bought from the Perceval Fund, 2003
John Brown received his initial training in Edinburgh, but spent most of the 1770s in Italy, where he based himself in Rome, and later Florence.
Scots occupied an important place in Roman society at this time, in part due to the presence of the Jacobite court, and Brown was also part of a thriving international community of artists, which included Henry Fuseli, George Romney, John Flaxman, Johann Tobias Sergel, and Brown's fellow-Scotsmen, Alexander and John Runciman.
Brown executed a small number of paintings, but worked primarily as a printmaker and draughtsman. While in Rome, he made a number of pen and ink drawings of historical subjects, landscapes and architecture for his Scottish patrons, but went on to make his reputation as a portraitist in 'crayons'. The majority of his portrait drawings that have survived are on a larger scale than this drawing, and several depict the first members of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, founded by the 11th Earl of Buchan in 1780. This is the only recorded portrait of this type drawn in Italy, and demonstrates the extraordinary refinement with which Brown was able to recreate texture, volume and even a simulation of colouristic effects through an extraordinarily subtle use of graphite.
An inscription on the old backboard identifies the sitter as 'Signore Inglese Giovanni Bosci / di Edimburgo' ('bosci' is Italian for woods). It could be that this is the Captain Wood who was recorded in the company of British artists in both Florence and Rome in the early part of 1778, and who left later that year for Naples in the company of one of them, the watercolourist John Warwick Smith (1749-1831).