Arthur Prichard Harrison, Portrait of Gentleman - 19th-century graphite drawing

An original mid-19th-century graphite drawing, Arthur Prichard Harrison Portrait of a Gentleman.

This minutely detailed graphite portrait shows a rather wild-looking gentleman, wearing the cravat and high-collared coat that was typical of the Regency period.

In good condition for its age.
9.6cm x 8.1cm.

This comes from a collection of paintings by one of the nineteenth century’s foremost heraldic artists. Arthur Oates Prichard Harrison ran a business in Great Portland Street, London, designing and illustrating coats of arms and other heraldic devices.

Beginning in the first half of the twelfth century, heraldry is a very distinctive branch of the visual arts. It has its own very particular pictorial language, in which the different elements on a coat of arms all have a meaning. And though it is an ancient art form, it is one that is continually being reinterpreted, in the light of changing styles and tastes.

Heraldry is all about creating a visible symbol of family or corporate identity. To begin with, it was simply a means of identifying who was who on a Medieval battlefield – with visors down, the design on a knight’s shield could be the only means of telling whether they were a friend or a foe.

During the Middle Ages, the emphasis gradually shifted towards display, rather than simple identification: used far beyond the battlefield, coats of arms became much more complex. At the same time, the heraldic system became much more organised, with designs being registered with bodies such as the College of Arms.

Heraldic artists still flourish today, designing and painting coats of arms. And of course heraldic art is continually being shaped by the artistic tastes of the times, meaning that the same coat of arms will be interpreted very differently in different periods. Yet there is always the requirement that the elements on a coat of arms should be clearly identifiable. Heraldic artists are constrained by the need for accuracy in representing the different kinds of animal, plant or flower that appear on a crest: in this respect they have relatively little room for artistic license.

At the time that Arthur Oates Prichard Harrison was working, through his company A.P. Harrison and Son, the trend in heraldic art was towards the ‘busy.’ Victorian heraldry has been described as being like the overcrowded drawing rooms of the period: full to bursting with colour and visual detail. This was also a period when heraldic art was very much in demand, given the Victorians’ liking for heraldic crests on stationery, in stained glass, and on signet rings for example.

The various examples of Harrison’s work in our collection, which include studies of flowers, birds’ eggs, and other natural subjects, show how painstaking Arthur Prichard Harrison was in getting the details right. These are mostly small watercolour paintings with an extraordinary level of intensity and accuracy. Heraldic art has a message to convey, so that while heraldic artists need imagination in working out an overall design, they need to be precise in depicting objects, animals and flowers. Many of the flowers that Harrison made studies of have a heraldic meaning.

Heraldic designers work on commission, and the evidence is that Arthur Prichard Harrison was among the most sought-after of the mid-nineteenth century. While he published and illustrated numerous books on heraldry, he is best known today as the publisher of the Armorial Register of the Order of the Garter, showing the coats of arms and insignia of all the Knights of the Garter, from the time that the Order was founded by King Edward III in 1343. First published in 1850, the register was ‘compiled by A. Prichard Harrison, under the patronage of Her Majesty.’

As well as the studies of natural subjects, our collection includes a number of other types of image. There are portraits of family members, especially from the generation before Arthur Prichard Harrison. As someone who dealt every day with subjects to do with genealogy and lineage, it is perhaps unsurprising that Harrison seems to have been interested in his own family history. There are studies of churches which Harrison seems to have visited, perhaps for work. And then there are a number of images that Harrison seems to have collected just as curiosities: a professional artist picking up what caught his eye.

Text copyright © 2017 Somerset & Wood Fine Art Ltd. All rights reserved.

Product code: JF-616

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