John Blagrove of Cardiff Hall, St Ann Jamaica, 1753–1824
Rosalie Smith McCrea
The Portrait of John Blagrove by the Italian Pompeo Batoni, now in the National Gallery of Jamaica, represents a young man who sat for the painter during his Grand Tour to the Continent. Britons regarded the eighteenth-century Grand Tour as necessary in finishing the education of a gentleman from the aristocracy and the upper gentry. Between 1740 and 1787, Batoni’s reputation among British “Grand Tourists” was very high and they offered him the leading source of patronage. Blagrove was born in Jamaica and inherited his wealth through sugar production and plantation slavery. This article will argue four main points. First, Blagrove made his Grand Tour because he had the wealth to do so and because it was the fashion for those of his class at the time. Having a Batoni portrait was not only desirable but also a symbol of status owing to the portrait’s having a social, cultural, aesthetic and symbolic resonance. With the rising tide of Abolitionism, the portrait would become a marker of gentlemanly status and erudition in the face of growing hostility toward proslavery West Indian planters. Second, British Abolitionist culture dating from the late 1760s had no effect on the nature and representation of Batoni’s representation of Blagrove. Batoni’s Italian practice was shaped by the “Old Master” tradition of copying and invention as well as by financial demands. In fact, Blagrove’s portrait conforms to a clichéd formula that the painter had, by that time, adopted for his British clientèle. Third, the article will bring forward important new findings on Blagrove’s life abroad while at Oxford, on the Continent in Italy and France and then back in Jamaica. Fourth, that upon relocating to England in 1805 and leaving the portrait behind at Cardiff Hall, his portrait likeness by the master Batoni seems to have lost its interest for Blagrove.