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Portrait of Hugh Lane by Antonio Mancini
Signed and dated, A Mancini Roma 1907
In 1915, at the age of thirty-nine Sir Hugh Lane was a successful art dealer and the founder of the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin in 1908 (now known as Hugh Lane Gallery). In 1914, he was appointed Director of the National Gallery of Ireland but also continued his commercial career and it was this business that brought him back to New York in April 1915. It was a successful trip for the young entrepreneur. He sold two paintings to the New York Collector Henry Clay Frick; Portrait of a Man with the Red Hat by Titian for £50,000 which is approximately £5.5 million in today’s currency, and Portrait of Thomas Cromwell by Holbein for a similar amount. Leaving the U.S. on a high, Sir Hugh set sail for Liverpool on the cruise liner RMS Lusitania. On the 7th May, as the ship sailed along the south coast of Ireland the heavy fog lifted and it was spotted near the Old Head of Kinsale by the German U-Boat U-20. U-20 fired its torpedoes and the Lusitania sank within 18 minutes. Of the 1,1959 people aboard, 1,198 died leaving only 761 survivors. Many died of hypothermia as when the British Navy arrived, they brought the survivors to Cobh instead of the nearer Kinsale. Sir Hugh was last seen helping women and children onto lifeboats. His body was never recovered. In commemoration of the anniversary of the death of Sir Hugh Lane, I have selected this splendid portrait of Hugh Lane by Neapolitan artist Antonio Mancini. It is the only portrait of himself that Hugh Lane ever commissioned.
In 1904, Hugh Lane travelled to Rome where he was introduced to Mancini by his English friend and collector Mary Hunter. Nervous and volatile Mancini was notoriously ill at ease in society and was prone to voluble out bursts having suffered a nervous breakdown in his earlier career. Nevertheless, he and Lane developed a mutual admiration and he painted one of the most penetrating and emphatic portraits of this ambitious young art dealer, collector and philanthropist, Mancini places Hugh Lane sitting on the edge of a fur lined seat gazing directly at the viewer. Against a back drop of cascading green drapes, Lane’s somewhat nervous disposition is cleverly suggested by the taut outstretched hand and his bolt upright posture. His unflinching gaze through small piercing brown eyes reveals a shrewd but sensitive personality. His love of beauty is emphasised by the luxuriant draperies as well as the blooms tumbling down from a stool at his feet. To his right the amorino looks down at the book in his hand, most probably a ledger, a reference to Lane’s art dealing. Lane became a supporter and champion of Mancini and before he left Rome in August commissioned another two portraits from Mancini, one of his aunt Augusta, Lady Gregory and the other of his sister Ruth Shine, both of which he gave to the gallery. Following the sitting for Mancini while in Rome, Mancini continued to work on this portrait for the next three years completing it in 1907.
As well as his patrons, Mancini enjoyed considerable support from his peers including John Singer Sargent who presented Mancini’s The Maker of Figures to the gallery in 1904 and Hendrik Mesdag who amassed a collection of works by Mancini and promoted him in the U.S.. Mancini’s first painting to enter a public collection was Circus Boy 1872 which was bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum, New York in 1892.