A Fine c.1830 Oil on Canvas Portrait of Saint Anthony of Padua Holding a Lily by Henry Perlee Parker, H.R.S.A. (1795-1873)

Origin: English
Period: Early/Mid Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1815-40
Height: 24 inches
Width: 20 inches

The atmospheric work, painted in oils on canvas, depicting Saint Anthony of Padua glancing downward in thought and holding a lily stalk as a sign of his purity, survives from mid nineteenth century Europe, probably Italy, and is presented unframed, and signed top left ‘HP PARKER Pinxit’ for the renowned history painter Henry Perlee Parker.

The condition of the picture is very good, without any damage or repair, and the canvas remains un-cleaned the whole showing an even layer of craquelure across the canvas. There are one or two flecks of alien white paint that could easily be removed from the surface. The signature is found top left and is typical of the artist as the script is gothic and he uses the amendment ‘pinxit’ which is from Latin: "one painted". This is a stylized amendment added to the signature depiction of the name of the person responsible for a work of art, found conventionally in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

The treatment is more sparse here and Saint Anthony appears more defined than in, say, eighteenth century pictures dealing with the same subject and the simplicity of the picture, with its illumination of the subject and lily against the darkened background, gives it huge decorative impact, yet the whole retains a very calm aura. This isn’t the kind of picture the artist is usually associated with so it is rather unusual in that respect.

One of the best-known painters working in north-east England during the early nineteenth century, Henry Perlee Parker (1795–1873) produced a variety of portraits and genre subjects, whilst also becoming synonymous with scenes of smuggling life. The son of Robert Parker, of Plymouth Dock, a teacher of marine and mechanical drawing, was born at Devonport on 15 March 1795. He was trained by his father, but felt cramped in his occupation; in 1815 he married a Miss Amy Morfey of Woodbridge, Suffolk, and set up as a portrait-painter in the Three Towns. He met with little success, migrated to the north, and in 1816 settled at Newcastle upon Tyne. He made his mark on Tyneside by a picture of Newcastle Eccentrics, representing a group of well-known characters identified with the street life of the town. In 1817 he began exhibiting in London at the British Institution, and shortly afterwards made the acquaintance of Thomas Miles Richardson. They set up in 1822 ‘The Northumberland Institution for the Promotion of the Fine Arts,’ of which Richardson was treasurer and Parker secretary. He was appointed drawing-master at Wesley College, Sheffield, and left Newcastle, shortly after 1840. On the death of his first wife in 1844 he settled in London, and, having remarried, he survived his second wife, and died on 11 November 1873. He had fourteen children.

He did not confine himself to portraits, but painted historical and marine subjects, and excelled in smugglers, whence the sobriquet ‘Smuggler Parker.’ His pictures sold well. Two large pieces, ‘The Sandhill Wine Pant—coronation of George IV,’ and ‘Fancy Dress Ball in the Mansion House—coronation of William IV,’ were purchased by the corporation of Newcastle. In 1840 he presented a representation of the rescue of John Wesley from the fire at Epworth in 1709 to the Wesleyan conference, to be placed in the Centenary Hall, London. Between 1817 and 1863 Parker exhibited eighty-six pictures in London, of which twenty-three were in the Royal Academy. In 1815 Parker moved from his native Plymouth to Newcastle. His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the
Grace Darling Museum (Bamburgh) and Tyne & Wear Museums. The
manuscript, ‘An artist’s narrative’, is held by Newcastle Central Library.

As the number of Franciscan saints increased, iconography struggled to distinguish Anthony from the others, but because of a legend that he had once preached to the fish, this was sometimes used as his attribute and another key pattern has him meditating on an open book in which the Christ Child himself appears. Over time the child came to be shown considerably larger than the book and some images even do without the book entirely. He is also often seen with a white lily stalk, representing his purity, as we see here. The lily stalk was not established as his attribute until 1450 and when he is portrayed alone, as he is here, he symbolises himself as the ‘Doctor of the Church’. This picture is similar, in some ways, in its composition to that of Guercino’s (1591-1666) St Anthony of Padua with the Infant Christ in 1656.

A beautifully striking, yet tranquil, tribute by a highly thought of artist to the most loved and admired saint in the Catholic Church.