“LIEUT. GENL. MACDONALD” BY DIGHTON 1812, COLONEL OF THE 55th REGIMENT, WITH A STRONG OPINION ON HATS

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Item Code: 1133-08

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This original hand-colored portrait print portrays a British general standing in full uniform wearing a large bicorne hat, aiguillette over his right shoulder, saber belt and saber with knot, and tall tasseled Hessian boots. It is signed at left bottom, “Dighton 1812,” and titled at bottom center, “Lieut. Genl. MacDonald.” The subject has been occasionally misidentified, but is now recognized to be General Donald MacDonald, 55th Regiment of Foot, who died in 1812, likely the occasion for the issue of the portrait.

Caricature portraits of the notable, whether military, political, theatrical, judiciary, or just social elite, were very popular in the period and often contained some social commentary or satire. The Dighton family, father Robert and three sons, were major producers, with a shop in Charing Cross. In this case, the portrait seems a rather straightforward portrait of the officer. We might point out one element, however, that may allude to a well-known foible of his: he was very much opposed to the circa 1799 new-fangled style of soldiers wearing their bicorne hats fore-and-aft rather than across the head, ear-to-ear. To our eyes angle of the folded brim of the general’s hat on viewer’s right indicates he is wearing it cross-wise, while the angle of the folded brim on the viewer’s left looks much more like it is from bicorne worn fore-and-aft.

The artist was likely Robert Dighton, Sr., or sons Richard or Denis. Robert, Jr., was part of the firm as well, but had entered the army himself in 1810. Print making and print selling ran in the Dighton family. Robert Dighton, Sr. (c.1752-1814) is perhaps the best known. His father, John, was a print seller and Robert, Sr. exercised his artistic talents in acting and singing as well as print-making, selling prints based on his watercolor caricature portraits of actors, actresses, lawyers, military men, and others from his shop in London. His sons Robert, Denis, and Richard worked with him and produced their own portraits. He also sold prints made by others and, at least once, owned by others- the British Museum in particular. As a result, he laid low in Oxford from about 1806 to 1810, where he produced portraits of academics and country gentlemen, before returning to London to reopen the shop. Artistic talent extended to his grandsons as well, two of whom also worked in photography.

Very condition, though with an old fold line at upper right just cross the plume of the hat. Framed and ready to hang. About 17 by 20 overall, double-matted with opening a bit under 9 by 12. [sr] [ph:L]

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