Picture inventories examined in the course of the Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project often contained fascinating material even when they drew a blank for works by Jordaens and Van Dyck. There are two paintings attributed to ‘Laroen’ and one to ‘ould Laroen’ in inventories of Hadriaan or Adrian Beverland. Beverland was Dutch thinker and dissident sexual theorist. He was exiled from Holland in 1679 when he offended the Dutch Church with his writings about Original Sin and prostitution in the ancient world. He lived in England from 1680 until his death in 1716 (featured image, his portrait engraved by Isaac Beckett after Simon du Bois c.1687, © Metropolitan Museum of Art).
‘Laroen’ and ‘ould Laroen’ suggest the father and son painters both named Marcellus Laroon. Marcellus Laroon the elder 1653–1702 was a draughtsman who made drawings for The Cries of London, a documentary series of workers in London’s streets. He was also an accomplished painter and copyist who painted drapery for Sir Godfrey Kneller and could produce exceptional portraits of his own.
His son Captain Marcellus Laroon the younger (1679–1772) combined painting with military service and a career on stage. He drew and painted the world he witnessed – soldiers on campaign or in Covent Garden, tavern scenes, smart parties, plays and late night drinking. Hogarth disapproved of that world but Laroon the half-pay captain lived in it, and clearly enjoyed it. The officer looking back at the viewer in ‘A Musical Tea Party’ (Royal Collection) may be a self-portrait (fig.1).
Professor Ellis Waterhouse said that Laroon’s ‘odd technique suggests stained tapestry’ (Eighteenth Century Painters, Woodbridge 1981, p.218). It’s a good description. Laroon’s lively, sketchy handling of oils reminds me of Walter Sickert. His style is unique and he’s one of my favourite eighteenth century painters.
Note: The catalogue of Hadriani Beverlandi Picturae 1705 (bound with other Beverland material as British Library, hereafter BL, Sloane MS 1985, ff.1–2r.) includes two unnumbered items after no.44 at the end of the list. The first is ‘My Pictur don by Sim duBois £10–15s’, possibly the original engraved by Beckett. The second is ‘a Lady by Laroen £5–0s’. A further list of ‘Picturae ad contemplationem philokalou in Pinacotheca’ (BL Sloane MS 1985, f.3r.) includes ‘12. A piece of Galantery don by Laroen – £10—0s’. From their valuations both are clearly oils. The manuscript draft ‘Catalogue of Curious Pictures Collected out of Mr DuBois and Mr Vande Velde Collections by Mr H. Beverland /To be sold by Auction on [blank] the [blank] / The sale to begin at Ten o’clock precisely’ (BL Sloane MS 1985, f.5.) begins with a painting of ‘The Union painted by ould Laroen. Anno 1685’. If the two works in the 1705 catalogue are indeed by Marcellus Laroon the younger they his earliest recorded paintings. He was only in his 25th year in 1705, and his known paintings are dated after 1730 when he was retired from the army on half pay. Drawings have been dated as early as c.1700, (e.g. R. Raines, Marcellus Laroon, Yale 1966, pp.73-76, cat. nos.73-76) but the earliest securely dated drawing is 1707 (Raines, p.124, cat. no.37) and the earliest dated painting is 1725 (Raines, p.108, cat.1). The subjects, a portrait of a lady and a scene of ‘gallantry’, are characteristic of Laroon the younger’s later work such as ‘Interior with figures’ at Tate Britain dated c.1750 (fig.2). The painting of ’The Union’ attributed to Marcellus Laroon the elder and dated 1685 is previously unrecorded. The title may describe a political allegory – similar to the allegorical mood of the Christ’s Hospital portrait of King Charles II as Founder of the Royal Society 1684/5 (fig.3) – but the subject is unclear.
Fig. 3. Marcellus Laroon the elder, Portrait of King Charles II, © Christ’s Hospital.