A Man of Letters

Robert Dodsley (1704-1764)


This cabinet miniature depicts the poet, dramatist and publisher Robert Dodsley seated at a table with the tools of his trade – ink, paper, books and a manuscript. His beige frock coat, matching waistcoat and ‘physical’ wig are all the typical attire of a gentleman of a learned profession.

Born in Mansfield in 1704, Robert Dodsley was the eldest son of a schoolmaster and as such would have benefitted from a good basic education. Apprenticed initially to a stocking weaver, Dodsley then worked as a footman before publishing his first book in 1729. It was the first of many publications in a career that saw him open a bookshop in Pall Mall and become a leading writer and publisher. Amongst the many hundreds of books he published and sold was the Annual Register and the first printing of Tristram Shandy, a book that had previously been turned down by several of his contemporaries.

The likeness in the portrait compares well to other known portraits of Dodsley including William Alcock’s portrait of him at the National Portrait Gallery. It is initialled bottom right F.C. and has been traditionally attributed to Francis Cotes. The portrait is in good condition and resides in a traditional papier-mâché frame with a bunch of grapes hanger.

The brother of miniaturist Samuel Cotes, Francis Cotes RA (1725?-1770) is best known for his oil and pastel portraits. Only a few miniatures by him have been recorded.

Item Ref. 7132

Size: framed, 205 x 172mm

Provenance: Bonhams, 1999