drapery painter

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A specialist in the painting of costume and other accessories employed by a portraitist with a large practice. Such specialist assistants or subcontractors seem to have emerged in the late 17th century, perhaps in the Netherlands, and almost all the leading British portraitists of the early and mid-18th century employed one or more (the main exceptions were Hogarth and Gainsborough, who were too individual to subscribe to the idea). The doyen of the draperyman's profession at this time was the Flemish-born Joseph van Aken (c.1699–1749), who settled in England in about 1720 and worked for Highmore, Hudson, Knapton, Ramsay, and others, including provincial painters (they sent their unfinished pictures to his London studio or sometimes painted the head on a separate piece of canvas that could be pasted onto the costumed figure). Van Aken had a repertoire of poses and costumes that his clients evidently used as a kind of pattern book: the same features sometimes occur virtually identically in the work of different painters, leading Vertue to comment that van Aken ‘puts them so much on a level that it is difficult to know one hand from another’. By the end of the century such production line methods were falling out of favour and the separate profession of drapery painter was dying out.

Subjects: Art.

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