NEW!: Basic Instincts: Love, Passion & Violence in the Art of Joseph Highmore

Proud to announce the arrival of my latest book, Basic Instincts: Love, Passion and Violence in the Art of Joseph Highmore, Paul Holberton Publishing, September 2017, published to accompany the Foundling Museum’s current major exhibition 29 Sept 2017 – 7 Jan 2018 (details below). You can order Basic Instincts here

The first major publication dedicated to the important 18th-century British artist Joseph Highmore, whose works address themes ranging from love, friendship and  motherhood, to abuse, abandonment, infant death and murder. His extraordinary painting The Angel of Mercy, the centrepiece of this book, is one of the most controversial images in 18th-century British art.

Published to coincide with the exhibition at the Foundling Museum in London, this fascinating book will re-introduce Joseph Highmore (1692–1780), an artist of status and substance in his day, who is now largely unknown. It takes as its focus Highmore’s small oil painting known as The Angel of Mercy (1746, Yale), one of the most shocking and controversial images in 18th-century British art.

The painting depicts a woman in fashionable mid-18th-century dress strangling the infant lying on her lap. A cloaked, barefooted figure cowers to the right as an angel intervenes, pointing towards the Foundling Hospital, the recently built refuge for abandoned infants, in the distance. The image attempts to address one of the most disturbing aspects of the Foundling Hospital story – certainly a subject that many (now as then) would consider beyond depiction. But if any artist of the period had attempted such a subject it would surely be William Hogarth, not the portrait painter Joseph Highmore? In fact, the painting was attributed to Hogarth for almost two centuries, until its reattribution in the 1990s. Even so, it is surprising that despite the wealth of scholarship associated with Hogarth and the ‘modern moral subject’ of the 1730s and 1740s, The Angel of Mercy has received little attention until now. The book (and exhibition) seeks to address this, while encouraging greater interest in, and appreciation for, this significant British artist.

Highmore expert, Jacqueline Riding, will set this extraordinary painting within the context of the artist’s life and work, as well as broader historical and artistic contexts. This will include exploration of superb examples of Highmore’s portraiture, such as his complex, monumental group portrait The Family of Sir Eldred Lancelot Lee and the exquisite small-scale ‘conversations’ The Vigor Family and The Artist and his Family, juxtaposed with analysis of key subject paintings, including the Foundling Museum’s Hagar and Ishmael and Highmore’s ‘Pamela’ series, inspired by Samuel Richardson’s bestselling novel. Collectively they tackle relevant and highly contentious issues around the status and care of women and children, master/servant relations, motherhood, abuse, abandonment, infant death and murder.

REVIEWS for Jacobites: A New History of the ’45 Rebellion, Bloomsbury Publishing 2016 (paperback 2017)

Tom Holland, “A gripping, panoramic and timely account of the greatest eighteenth-century crisis to menace the Union of Great Britain.”

A lively read, combining a good and succinct military account within wider and political social context … I enjoyed and recommend” –  Book of the Month, Military History Monthly Magazine. WINNER, SILVER AWARD, BOOK OF THE YEAR 2016

Colin Kidd, The Guardian, “A fresh and historically convincing perspective … An enthralling narrative [and] and a work of penetrating insight and dispassionate balance, which is captivating from start to finish”.

Paul Monod, Court Historian“For those who know nothing about the rebellion, Jacobites is an excellent place to begin. For those who know much about the subject, Jacqueline Riding provides a comprehensive, fair-minded and well-researched account. She will lead every reader, whatever their expertise, on an exciting and highly entertaining journey”.

Sarah Fraser, Country Life, “Witty and psychologically astute … impeccably researched yet vigorously paced … Riding has mined the archives to retrieve lost voices and her panoramic vision lets us hear the evolution of a national discourse”.

Rab Houston, BBC History Magazine “it is to Jacqueline Riding’s credit that she manages to avoid partiality. Indeed, those who want an accessible, comprehensive, even-handed, and up-to-date survey, without myth or mysticism, apology or polemic, will find her book suits their purposes admirably”, “alert to the implications of the rising for the creation of a truly united United Kingdom and for the formation of the British empire”, “the book has an unusually acute sense of person and place“, “both scholarly and readable, with 60 bite-sized chapters each presenting a detailed, vivid part of a complex rebellion”, “pieced together from many small components and first-hand perspectives … Diplomacy, warfare and politics all feature but so too does human strength and frailty; there are the great and the good (and the not-so-good) but also the more obscure, all with a fascinating part to play in one of Britain’s defining crises.”

Ian Hernon, Tribune Magazine “In this page-turning, impeccably researched account”, the author “weaves a more complex tale than is taught in schools either side of the border”.

Geoffrey Scott, The Tablet, “the most comprehensive account in modern times”, “vivid storytelling and lively characterisation“.

Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman, “a forensic and accomplished account”, “one of the most nuanced and sophisticated histories of the ’45”, “Time and again, it offers fresh perspectives and interesting angles.”

Dominic Green, Literary Review, “substantial, deeply researched and fast-moving history of  ‘the Forty-Five’ … which mingles the thrill of revolt with a careful analysis of international contexts and motives.”

Catholic Herald, “Jacqueline Riding achieves a remarkable feat in producing a history which is both compulsively readable and factually packed. Having brilliantly toured the political situation of mid eighteenth-century Western Europe, she takes us along on the political (and then military) campaign trail with the Young Pretender. But the triumph of Riding’s new account of the 1745 rebellion is that, as we move from Rome, through Paris, to Scotland and England, we are taken grippingly from romance to comedy, and even high farce, before the eventual tragedy”.


‘An Englishman in Paris: Joseph Highmore at the Académie Royale’ Journal18, Fall 2016

‘An Englishman in Paris: Joseph Highmore at the Académie Royale’ in Louvre Local Edition of Journal18, Fall 2016

In the early 1730s the painter Joseph Highmore (1692-1780; Fig. 1) made two foreign journeys. His voyage in 1732 to the Low Countries was his first visit to continental Europe and, as stated by Highmore’s son-in-law John Duncombe, was undertaken chiefly to view the Elector Palatine’s Gallery at Düsseldorf “collected by Rubens, and supposed the best in Europe.” Duncombe continues, regarding Sir Peter Paul Rubens: “At Antwerp also he had peculiar pleasure in contemplating the works of his favourite master.”[1] Highmore returned to the continent two years later, this time to Paris, and his journal for this trip survives.[2]


Fig.1. Joseph Highmore, Self-portrait, c.1730. Oil on canvas, 126.4 x 101 cm. Felton Bequest, 1947, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Image Courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria.

Highmore spent eleven weeks away from London, departing from the Tower on Sunday 13 June 1734 and returning on Tuesday 24 August.[3] A majority of this time was spent in Paris itself and its environs. Highmore’s unguarded reactions to what he saw, as recounted in this unedited and private format, are by turns extremely admiring and highly critical. Further, the journal recalls what captured Highmore’s particular attention, either in the moment or soon after, and as such the references fluctuate between structured sentences and enigmatic single-word jottings. The prominence of Flemish art, specifically Rubens, in his choice of itinerary and corresponding notations suggests that the Paris trip acted, in part, as an adjunct to his earlier experiences in the Low Countries. However and crucially, given the focus of the present collection of essays, Highmore’s itinerary also demonstrates a specific interest in meeting prominent members of the Académie Royale (located in the Louvre from 1692 onwards) and viewing examples of recent “modern” and contemporary French art. This second strand is my focus here. I will conclude by briefly considering how Highmore’s time in Paris may have influenced his art practice on return.

To read the whole article click here.

‘Jacobites’ Bloomsbury USA out 5 July 2016


Buy now at Amazon 

Reviews for Jacobites USA:

“[Riding] unflinchingly describes the consequences for those who supported the rebellion. The use of contemporary accounts, especially from women, offers a different and compelling perspective to events, resulting in a persuasive work geared toward 21st-century readers. Even-handed, refreshingly free of jargon, and organized into short, succinct chapters focused on geographic location that make the book read like a thoroughly researched adventure story, this work will appeal to the lay reader while also being an ideal resource for a Scottish history course.” – starred review, Library Journal

“[Riding] maintains objectivity . . . making this work unusual among the many passionate and patriotism-tinged treatments of the oft-romanticized prince . . . Throughout, Riding seamlessly incorporates journal entries, letters, and other primary sources [and] effectively shows why Bonnie Prince Charlie’s once-great hopes . . . continue to inspire the romanticization of his legend centuries later.” – Publishers Weekly

“Given the popular sentimentality of her subject Jacqueline Riding achieves a remarkable feat in producing a history which is both compulsively readable and factually packed. Having brilliantly toured the political situation of mid eighteenth-century Western Europe, she takes us along on the political (and then military) campaign trail with the Young Pretender. But the triumph of Riding’s new account of the 1745 rebellion is that, as we move from Rome, through Paris, to Scotland and England, we are taken grippingly from romance to comedy, and even high farce, before the eventual tragedy.” – Catholic Herald

“Jacqueline Riding’s Jacobites brilliantly captures the extraordinary daring of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s ’45, and takes us step-by-step to the final disaster at Culloden. This is the definitive modern account of the Jacobite Rising.” – George Goodwin, author of Benjamin Franklin in London (Yale 2016)

AAH Conference, Edinburgh, 9 April 2016: ‘Look, love and follow: Formation and Transformation in the Imagery of Charles Edward Stuart

Blanchet, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 1739, oil on canvas, The Royal Collection

Louis Gabriel Blanchet, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 1739, oil on canvas, The Royal Collection. Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2015

Association of Art Historians Conference, Edinburgh 7-9 April 2016.

From the time of his birth in 1720, the image of Charles Edward Stuart, Jacobite Prince of Wales, was carefully constructed utilising standard pictorial models for the representation of European monarchy. Such imagery was reproduced, adapted and disseminated (within the United Kingdom covertly) to loyal supporters of the exiled Stuart dynasty.

During the ’45, when, for the first time, he was in complete control of his own self-image, Charles strategically alternated his appearance from that of a fashionably dressed European/British prince, to that of a tartan-clad Highland Chief. In so doing, the prince was attempting to answer the expectations of his predominantly Highland army while, at the same time, responding to the urgent need to appeal to, and ultimately win over to his cause, the majority of Britons: many of whom (Lowlanders and English alike) considered the Highlander (as represented through tartan plaid) a barbaric anachronism.

After the Jacobite army’s defeat at Culloden in April 1746, the prince spent five months as a fugitive in the Western Highlands and Islands. The Highland garb he wore at this time was no longer symbolic, but vital for his survival. Yet it is from this period, when tartan and Highland clothing in general was outlawed and the ancient Clan system was being dismantled, that the image of the prince undergoes its most dramatic and enduring reconstruction, both in terms of representation and meaning.

This paper will chart this transformation, through specific examples of contemporary visual and material culture (including literature), from the reality of an Italian-born British Prince, to the myth of the ‘Highland Laddie’.


BSECS Conference 6-8 January 2016, St Hugh’s College, Oxford


Yale Scotch Female Gallantry

14.00-15.30 Panel 12 – The Visual and Material Culture of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. Chair: Dr Viccy Coltman

This panel focuses on the visual and material culture, both Hanoverian and Jacobite, which was created before, during and after the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. It aims to deal with broad issues, such as identity and nationhood, while offering close readings of a variety of objects: from portraiture and graphic satire, to medals, dice and pipe stoppers. The papers will build on the wealth of recent historical and literary scholarship (particularly in the field of Jacobite Material Culture) by showcasing new research and approaches from an Art Historical perspective.

Paper: Jacqueline Riding ‘The True Contrast: the changing image of Charles Edward Stuart, 1745-1746’

From the time of his birth in 1720, the pictorial representation of Charles Edward Stuart, Jacobite Prince of Wales and heir apparent, was very carefully managed. Until his attempt to seize the throne of Great Britain in 1745-6, he was invariably depicted, in oil and engraving, using the standard pictorial models of European monarchy: never, that is, in tartan. During the ’45, when, for the first time, he was in complete control of his own image, the prince carefully alternated his appearance, from that of a tartan-clad Highland Chief, to a fashionably dressed European or, more specifically, British prince, thus treading a symbolic line between the expectations of his predominantly Highland army, and the need to appeal to the majority of his British ‘subjects’, many of whom (Lowlanders and English alike) considered the Highlander (as represented through tartan plaid) a barbaric anachronism. In this sense, the rediscovered portrait by Allan Ramsay, which was commissioned by the prince in the October of 1745 while Charles held court at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, and painted just prior to his advance into England, can be seen as both a statement of Charles’ self-image, while symbolising his broader dynastic ambitions. Crucially this image was swiftly engraved and then circulated.

The prince’s enemies, meanwhile, generated images of him that aimed to undermine the legitimacy of his claims and win over popular opinion, by exaggerating his otherness: stressing, on the one hand, his birth and upbringing in Rome as a Roman Catholic and, on the other, his widely-reported wearing of Highland garb, most famously the ‘wanted poster’ accompanying the £30,000 bounty issued by the British government. The engraving ‘Scotch Female Gallantry’ (above), depicting Charles surrounded by ecstatic women at an evening entertainment, even attempts to equate the prince with another unmanly Italian import (as the anti-Jacobite propagandists would argue), the Castrato.

This paper will begin by presenting close readings of these three key images, all produced during the early stages of the ’45. It will consider how, as a group, they reflect a very particular moment during the campaign, when the outcome of the rebellion was very far from certain. Finally, it will look at how these ‘prototypes’, the British Hero, the Highland Laddie and the Effeminate Italian, informed representations of Charles in the aftermath of Culloden, including the pro-Cumberland print, ‘The True Contrast’.

Wolverhampton Art Gallery Talk 2 Oct 2015 2-3pm: The Family of Sir Eldred Lancelot Lee


Joseph Highmore, The Family of Sir Eldred Lancelot Lee, oil on canvas, 1736, Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

In 1736 Joseph Highmore completed the group portrait, The Family of Sir Eldred Lancelot Lee within which all eleven of the main figures are painted near life size. It is without doubt his most ambitious portrait.

Sir Eldred (b.1650) may have instigated the creation of the portrait for display at his Shropshire seat, Coton Hall near Alveley. Both he and his brother Thomas were benchers of Lincoln’s Inn, London (their father had also been a barrister there) providing a connection with the artist’s early law career (Highmore had served a clerkship with a London attorney) and proximity to his studio in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Yet, as The Lee Family was completed two years after Sir Eldred’s death in 1734, the portrait’s final appearance would have been agreed with Lee’s widow: in fact it is more likely that Isabella (1690-1767) herself was the original patron of the painting. This fact alone transforms the potential purpose of the portrait and its symbolism.

This talk will present new research that uncovers the complex meaning of this extraordinary portrait.