Theatrical Scenes
Theatrical Scenes
Theatrical Scenes
Theatrical Scenes
Theatrical Scenes
Theatrical Scenes

JOHN COLLET (1725-1780)

Theatrical Scenes

1780 England

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1725 – 1780
Oils on canvas 13 ¾ x 11inches
Framed sizes 20 x 16 ¾ inches

Born in London in 1725, the son of a Gentleman, holding a public office.
He studied art at St. Martins Lane, in Covent Garden and under the great British landscape painter George Lambert.
His first exhibit was at the Free Society of Artists in London in 1761 and he would be a regular contributor to F.S.A exhibitions until his death.
Although he is known to have painted a few landscapes, no doubt as a result of his former master George Lambert, Collet was to concentrate on humorous subjects in the manner of Hogarth.
Whilst his subjects may not have the depth of social comment that Hogarth’s did, he was, none the less, a hugely popular painter and his work lent itself to being engraved, which many of them were. In the 18th Century this would have been very lucrative for the artist in Royalty fees.
By the 1770’s Collet had become rather interested in the Theatre and many of his subjects (including these two) have theatrical references.
It seems he often uses a small animal somewhere in the painting as a representative for the viewer.
With the current paintings, we see Collets comment of the idea of an actress taking a male role in the Theatre, in the painting of “An actress at her toilet” this work was exhibited at the Free Society in the year of his death, 1780.
It is certainly a comment about Ann Cargill (nee Brazen) playing the role of Captain Macheath in John Gay’s Beggars Opera in 1776. It may also be a satirical comment on Lavinia Fenton (who played Polly Peachum in that play) and famously eloped to marry the Duke of Bolton.
There was much talk at the time in Britain that we had lost control of Colonial America due to a blundering of social stereotypes and gender!
There is a piece of paper on the chair with the words “To be seen a most surprising Hermaphrodite”.

In the second piece here we have “deceitful kisses or the pretty plunderers”. Whilst this would appear to have less social comment, there is an interesting theatrical reference, as the monkey sitting on top of the wardrobe is really a copy of “Who’s the Dupe?” Hannah Cowleys play of 1779, where a man pretends to be more intelligent and scholarly than he really is to win the heart of a lady. There could well be a contemporary event that is being enacted here, that we do not know currently.

Both these images were produced in mezzotint “An actress at her toilet” in 1779 and “deceitful kisses” in 1781 (post mortem for Collet) published by Carrington Bowles.
There are copies of both these subjects in the British Museum collection.

Both prints bear the inscription that the “original paintings is in the possession of Carrington Bowles”
By the nature of both subjects and their dates, it makes them very late works in Collets oeuvre and it is most interesting that by this date, he is including the inscribed title for the engraver in the original painting (known to be present in other later Collet paintings). Clearly by this stage, the majority of his work was intended for printed reproduction.
He had by this date inherited a considerable fortune, living comfortably in a house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea and was only fifty-five years old when he died.

Provenance: Carrington Bowles
W.O. Callender
Christies 1908 bought by another member of the Callender family from the Estate

Bibl: Bryans Dictionary, Painters of 18th Century-Ellis Waterhouse

Height 13.75 inch (34.92 cm)
Width 11.00 inch (27.94 cm)
External Height 20.00 inch (50.80 cm)
External Width 16.75 inch (42.54 cm)
Cider House Galleries

Cider House Galleries
Norfolk House
80 High Street

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