Sir John Taylor 1st Bart.


Sir John Taylor and his Family

Sir John Taylor and his Family, painting by Daniel Gardner, [c. 1784] sold at Christies London 13/06/2001.


'The present picture is one of Gardner's most ambitious and largest undertakings in bodycolour.

Sir John Taylor was the second son of Patrick Tailzour, who emigrated from Borrowdale, near Montrose, and settled in Jamaica, and Martha, daughter of George Taylor, of Camanas, Jamaica. Patrick Tailzour assumed his wife's surname upon his marriage and lived at Lyssons Hall, Jamaica.

Little is known of Sir John Taylor's life before his marriage, however, in the conventional fashion of aspiring young gentlemen, he embarked upon the Grand Tour in 1773. He is recorded as having acquired one of Richard Wilson's landscapes in 1773 and he appears in Zoffany's Tribuna (Windsor Castle), indicating that he visited Florence. Piranesi also dedicated a plate to him in his Vasi Candelabri, Cippi, Rome, 1778.

John Taylor was created a baronet on 25 July 1778 and on 17 September of that year he married Elizabeth Gooden, only daughter and sole heiress of Philip Houghton of Jamaica at St Marylebone's Church. By her he had two sons Simon, (b. 1779, but who died in infancy) and Simon Richard Brissett and four daughters, Anna Susanna, Elizabeth, who married in 1805 William Mayne Esq. (of the family of Powis Logie, and nephew of Sir William Mayne, Bt., 1st Lord Newhaven), Maria, who died unmarried and Martha, (b. 1786). The present picture must have been executed between 1785, after the birth of Maria their fourth child and before March 1786 when Martha their fifth child was born. Williamson (loc. cit.) wrongly identifies the fourth child in the picture as Mrs Graeme, however Maria, the baby in the picture, died unmarried.

Sir John Taylor's elder brother Simon, seated on the left of the picture, was one of the wealthiest inhabitants of Jamaica, owning a number of large sugar plantations. His fortune and properties passed to his nephew, Simon Richard Brissett Taylor, seated on his uncle's knee, on his death in 1813. Sir Simon Richard Brissett Taylor, succeeded to the Baronetcy on the death of his father. He died unmarried on 18 May 1815 aged 31, when the Baronetcy became extinct.

Sir John Taylor's eldest daughter, Anna Susanna, portrayed standing beside her mother, married George Watson, only son of George Watson, of Saul's River, Jamaica, on 6 March 1810. George Watson took the additional name of Taylor by Royal Licence in 1815. Thomas Raikes in his journal says of George Watson Taylor that 'At the outset in life he was a regular, independent man with about £1,500 a year and happy. At 45 years of age he inherits [sic] above £60,000 a year through the death of his wife's brother Sir Simon Taylor.'

George Watson Taylor subsequently embarked upon a career in politics, he was elected Member of Parliament firstly for Newport, Isle of Wight and subsequently Seaford, East Looe and Devizes. The Watson Taylors led an extravagant lifestyle and entertained lavishly. In 1816 Watson Taylor purchased a town House in Cavendish Square and paid £250,000 for the country residence of Erlestoke Park, near Devizes. Over the next sixteen years he assembled one of the finest and most distinguished collections of furniture in the country. However his extravagances coupled with the depressed price of sugar caused a decline in his fortunes and he was declared bankrupt in 1832. The contents of Erlestoke were auctioned by George Robins between 9 July and 1 August 1832, the catalogue stating that 'It is only neccessary to observe, that within this classic Residence will be found as extensive a collection of objects of superior elegance and taste as that which adorned The Abbey of Fonthill.' Sir Robert Peel is supposed to have commented that 'no man ever bought ridicule at so high a price'.

The scale and quality of finish of the present work suggests that it was an important and prestigious commission for Gardner. As with most portraits of the late eighteenth century, it would have served as an assertion of the Taylor's social standing. Both Sir John Taylor and his wife are fashionably attired, Lady Taylor wearing an ostrich plumed hat. Sir John Taylor's pose is confident as he looks directly out at the viewer, nonchalantly holding a cane in his right hand, his left hand is in his pocket. However in addition to the element of swagger there is a degree of spontaneity and intimacy captured in the picture. We may surmise that the picture was commissioned to celebrate the visit of Sir John's brother Simon from Jamaica. Sir John Taylor only visited Jamaica occasionally and we are told that he died during a visit to his estates, however Simon Taylor is recorded as residing in Jamaica. The Taylors were clearly a close family; after his brother's death Simon Taylor, himself unmarried, supported his brother's widow and children and there is a touching monument in Jamaica erected by Sir Simon Richard Brissett Taylor 'To the memory of a beloved and honoured father and uncle'.

The Taylors commissioned other works from Gardner; a striking full-length portrait of Sir John Taylor (see fig. 1), shows him confidently leaning against a plinth, his outstretched right arm rests on the branch of a tree and leads the eye into an extensive landscape beyond, designed to emphasise the sitter's land ownings. The Taylor's were obviously a weathly and educated family with a keen interest in the arts. Sir John Taylor was a Fellow of the Royal Society and was elected a member of the Society of Dilettanti in 1776. He appears in the second of Sir Joshua Reynolds's famous group portraits of the Dilettanti Society, 1777-8, second from the left holding up a lady's garter. The Taylors would appear to have been on intimate terms with Reynolds, who painted both Sir John Taylor and his wife (see fig. 2). David Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, New Haven and London, 2000, p. 440, notes that 'Sir John had five o'clock appointments with Reynolds, probably for dinner.' It was probably through Reynolds that Taylor was introduced to Gardner. Gardner also painted Philadelphia De Lancy, who married Stephen Payne, also represented in the second of Reynolds's Dilettanti portraits.

Gardner was both a friend and pupil of Reynolds. He was one of the earliest students at the Royal Academy Schools, where he won a silver medal in 1771. While studying there he came to the attention of Reynolds, who offered to continue his training in return for assistance in his studio. Gardner's sketch book proves that he copied the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds constantly and he certainly assimilated a great number of his ideas. The disposition and poses of the children in the present picture would appear to owe some debt to Reynold's masterful group portrait The Marlborough Family, 1777-8 (Blenheim Palace).

Another influence upon Gardner was Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. Gardner was briefly a pupil of Gainsborough and his light and fluid style is reminiscent of Gainsborough's rococo brushwork. However the arrangement seems to have been short lived, probably on account of a falling out between the two artists. Gardner also employed the idea of painting landscapes as a backdrop to his pictures and the present picture, painted the same year as Gainsborough's The Morning Walk (National Gallery, London), approaches Gainsborough's spirit in the elegance and poise of Sir John and Lady Taylor.

Gardner has excelled in the depiction of Sir John Taylor's three elder children. A contemporary account, written by Richard Cobbold relates a story that 'Gardner delighted in the buoyant group of children who ... came bounding up the cliff. The artist's eyes dilated with glee as he quickly noted down their jocund faces and merry actions.' Among his best works are group portraits showing children playing together, for example The Wife and Children of John Moore (see fig. 3) and also the three group portraits of the children of the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch (see Williamson, op. cit. illustrated facing p. 32). The children are skillfully posed and Gardner seems to have reacted to their liveliness. The artist has captured the idea of an intimate and close family reunited.

Painted in the late eighteenth century when the age of portraiture was reaching it's peak with the practices of Reynolds and Gainsborough, Gardner has managed to convey both the impressive dignity of a prosperous and fashionable couple and the charming playfulness of their children in this delightful portrait.'


Watson-Taylor sale; Colston Park, 1832 (according to Williamson, loc. cit.). Mrs Keating, Teffont Manor, Salisbury. with Frank Partridge, London, 1932. Charles Wertheimer. with Agnew's, London.


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