Joseph Haydn


Object name
Object number
Gift from Hill, Arthur F. — 1933


This is a head and shoulders portrait of the 18th century composer Franz Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy. It was painted sometime during Haydn’s first London visit in 1790-91. Before this time, he was employed by the Esterhazy family as a court musician and did not write music for other clients. Haydn’s two triumphant visits to London sealed his international reputation and put him firmly at the forefront of European music-making. The portrait is life size, and measures at less than a meter high and half a meter wide. Haydn would have been around 59 when this portrait was made. He is seated angle in a purple, velvet wing backed arm chair in front of a deep red velvet curtain. He is dressed in a black coat, which is open to the chest, showing the ruffles of his white undershirt. He wears a light grey wig which has two rows of tight curls at the temples on either side of his face. His eyebrows are heavy and dark, and contrast with the colour of his wig. He has a pronounced jaw, and the corners of his lips are turned upward in a slight smile. A beam of cool light highlights Haydn’s face and shoulders. He is looking at us but is turned slightly to the right so that his face and body are at an angle. His pale, aquiline face contrasts starkly against a murky green background. In his long fingers he holds a thin, green leather bound book with elaborate gold carving on the cover and spine and gilded pages- perhaps it is a manuscript. It is being held open by one of Haydn’s fingers, and indication that he is about to open the book, or about to close it. The painting was most likely commissioned by the music seller and publisher John Bland. The portrait was subsequently engraved, also by Hardy and published by Bland, therefore reaching a wider audience. Because of this, it has become one of the most iconic images of the composer.

The artist Thomas Hardy is an elusive individual. The first reference we have to him is his enrolment at the age of 21 at the Royal Academy School in 1778, the year he started to exhibit at the Royal Academy. He is best known for a series of portraits of musicians, including Johann Peter Salomon and William Shield which are also owned by the Royal College of Music.


[probably] commissioned by Bland, John