This original pastel drawing by Thomas Frye is a half-length portrait of a man dressed in a turban. This drawing is the original sketch for one of the heads depicted in Frye’s collection ‘Twelve Mezzotint Prints’ of 1760 and it can be assumed that this pastel work was created earlier of this same year.
Two versions of the print, created from this original work, are currently held in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Frye’s evocative figures, although presumably based on living models, exceed the conventions of portraiture, and also function as character studies. The man shown here – dressed in the fashionable ‘Turkish’ manner – turns with parted lips as if poised to speak, while raising the elegant fingers in one hand in a rhetorical gesture. His long eyelashes and smoothly rendered wrinkles and dimples are hallmarks of Frye’s refined style.
Thomas Frye (c. 1710 – 3 April 1762) was an Anglo-Irish artist, best known for his portraits in oil and pastel, including some miniatures and his early mezzotint engravings. He was also the patentee of the Bow porcelain factory, London, and claimed in his epitaph to be “the inventor and first manufacturer of porcelain in England,” though his rivals at the Chelsea porcelain factory seem to have preceded him in bringing wares to market. The Bow porcelain works did not long survive Frye’s death; their final auctions took place in May 1764.
Frye was born at Edenderry, County Offaly, Ireland, in 1710; in his youth he went to London to practice as an artist. His earliest works are a pair of pastel portraits of boys, one dated 1734 (Earl of Iveagh). For the Worshipful Company of Saddlers he painted a full-length portrait of Frederick, Prince of Wales (1736, destroyed 1940), which he engraved in mezzotint and published in 1741. With his silent partner, a London merchant Edward Heylyn, he took out a patent on kaolin to be imported from the English colony of Virginia in November 1745, and became manager of the Bow factory from its obscure beginnings in the 1740s. He retired to Wales in 1759 for the sake of his lungs, but soon returned to London and resumed his occupation as an engraver, publishing the series of life-size fancy portraits in mezzotint, by which he is most remembered. He died of consumption on 2 April 1762 and was buried at Hornsey.