Luxury Design, Past & Present
These charming English School portraits show the subjects half-length by a desk, the surgeon with a skull at his elbow and his wife with an open writing box. Oil on canvas within a gilded frame and accompanied by five related letters. English, circa 1810.
Footnote: Robert Prideaux died aged 36 in 1818 but in his short life he managed to rise rapidly through the ranks as a naval surgeon. The Naval Chronicle Vol. 19 (1808) records his appointment as a surgeon, aged only 26, on the cutter Sprightly and that he moved to the Lily by the end of the same year. In 1809, a member of the crew of the vessel Polyphemus was involved in a drunken incident that culminated in him being sick on the quarter-deck of the Lily whilst both vessels were docked at Port Royal in Jamaica. This led to a Court Martial appearance for one Joseph Fountain, the Master at Arms of the Polyphemus, for allowing the crewman access to too much alcohol. Prideaux was one of the key witnesses at the trial and so this establishes that he was in Jamaica during that period with the rest of the crew. Next he joined the newly-built Pyramus, the only ship of her class, a fifth rate 36-gun frigate. A spell on Cordelia appears to have been Prideaux’s final appointment.
Amongst the small cache of letters preserved with our paintings is one from 1813 written from Plymouth Naval Hospital. Prideaux wrote to his brother that, by 9 December of that year, he had already been in the hospital for a month but was making much faster progress than was expected. He mentions having a “disease of the bone” that he hopes to be able to cure by making use of warm salt baths, but also says that there appears no possibility of his “serving on a sea going ship again”. Prideaux’s brother, William, the recipient of all the letters in our possession, and therefore presumably the owner of the pair of paintings, was a clerk in the Drawing Office of the Bank of England. Robert Prideaux died 12 May 1818 and his will, leaving all his goods to his wife Mary Ann, was proved in 1819. He is buried in Kingsbridge Quaker burying ground in Devon. His tombstone describes him as ‘Surgeon, late of Salcombe’.