'Hazard Zet Forward'
Motto of the Seton's of Parbroath


John Thomas Seton, Painter, self-portrait circa 1775.

John Thomas Seton, Painter

(Scottish, 1738-1806)

John Thomas Seton was born with the advantage of court connections and was raised amongst the finest artists in eighteeth-century London, who congregated around Old Slaughters Coffee House on St. Martin's Lane and The Sublime Society of Beef Steaks at the Theatre Royal. Young Seton was the son of Christopher Seaton, Royal Gem & Seal Engraver to George Prince of Wales (later George III) and a founder of The Society of Artists of Great Britain (later amalgamated into The Royal Academy of Arts under founding president Sir Joshua Reynolds), descended from the line of the Seton's of Parbroath.

Christopher Seaton (Brit.) was a Scotsman and pupil of the Danish Gem-engraver Christian Reisen, who he greatly eclipsed, was in 1750, says King, "at the
head of his profession in London. " He endeavoured to give an extreme finish to his gems : hence they are weak, cold, and without spirit. His chief works are portraits of Pope, Inigo Jones, and Sir John Newton, for the last of which he was paid 25 guineas" (p. 273). Raspe describes further by him a Head of Psyche, in white cornelian, and a Portrait of Charles I., in the character of the 'Ecce Homo'.

Seaton engraved the Great seal of George III. and also, in the opinion ot Mr. Frank Bowcher, one of those for use in Ireland under the same reign.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. Mariette, op. cit. King, op. cit. Raspe, op. cit.

John Thomas Seaton then, was a pupil of Francis Hayman and studied at the St. Martin's Lane Academy. He went on the Grand Tour to Italy, where he was in Rome in 1758/9 where he lived on the Strada della Croce and was involved in the expatriate artist community. He assisted in winding up the affairs of the young painter Jonathan Skelton who died while there.

He was a more rounded artist on his return to Great Britain, and was exhibiting in 1761 at the Society of Artists and receiving commission for portraits and conversation pieces from a fairly exalted clientele. Within a few years he had settled in Edinburgh, and his portraits of Scottish high-society are amongst the more memorable of his age.

Seton trained at the St. Martin's Lane Academy under Francis Hayman in the 1740s and 1750s. Between 1758 and 1759, he joined the fraternity of British painters studying in Rome, where he operated as an art buyer for Lord Bute on behalf of George, Prince of Wales. He set up studios in Charing Cross, Covent Garden, Bath and Southampton, before moving to Edinburgh in 1772. He practised in Edinburgh as a society portraitist in the mid-1770s, during which period he sent portraits to London for exhibition at The Society of Artists (1772) and The Royal Academy (1774), and during this period in Edinburgh his self-portrait was painted.

He later spent a decade in India (1776-1785) where he had a good portrait practice, but returned to Scotland where he was last recorded in Edinburgh in 1806.

In 1776, Seton travelled to Calcutta, where he quickly established a flourishing practice. He received commissions from the upper echelons the British East India Company in Bengal, including Liuetenant-General Sir Eyre Coote, Chief Justice Sir Robert Chambers, surgeon Ninian Lowis, Maratha Empire statesman Nana Fadnavis and Warren Hastings. According to Ozias Humphry RA, Seton "returned to England after an easy time [in India]...with twelve thousand pounds in his pocket". In 1785, Seton returned to Edinburgh as a wealthy man and painted society portraits until his death in 1806.

Self-portrait in Van Dyck costume, holding a porte-crayon, circa 1775

Oil on canvas

36 inches by 28 inches (42 inches by 34 inches framed)



Warren Hastings, first Governor General of India, by John Thomas Seton.Though painted in the 1770s, the artist has costumed himself in the "Vandyck dress" of a century earlier - both a nod to England's greatest portrait painter and a self-proclamation of his own talent and vanity. He gazes beyond the canvas thoughtfully, while posing with his porte-crayon - an instrument essential to the art of painting.

Angelica Kauffmann portrayed her great friend Joshua Reynolds in similar Vandyck garb in her 1767 portrait of Reynolds. "The mid-18th century witnessed the vogue of so-called 'Vandyck dress'; plain satin suits for men, with lace collars and cuffs. When Horace Walpole went to a masquerade in 1742, he saw 'quantities of Vandycks, and all kinds of old pictures walked out of their frames"...the great 18th century portraitists, from Pompeo Batoni and Allan Ramsay to Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, copied Van Dycks costumes, poses and compositions." (Keith Thomas, "Dressed to Impress", 2009)

His work frequently appears at auction at Sotheby's and Christie's.

His famous portraits include those of Warren Hastings (left), and William Dalrymple.

In April 2008, the British Culture Minister, Margaret Hodge, placed a temporary export bar on ‘a rare likeness of Alexander Dalrymple', by John Thomas Seton.

Dalrymple was the first Hydrographer to the Admiralty, who ‘through his pioneering work on nautical charts, is a pivotal figure in the development of the global maritime industry as well as of the British Empire’. An attempt was made to raise funds to purchase the portrait at the recommended price of £137,500 and it was subsequently acquired by the National Museum of Scotland where the portrait is currently on display.

Sold at Bonhams (London) British Paintings October 26, 1989, lot 95.
Provenance: Bonhams (London) British Paintings, October 26, 1989, lot 95.
Dave Dallas Fine Art Gallery (London); Private estate (Los Angeles, CA)



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