James Carpenter, Bookseller

Nathaniel Plimer


Set against a sultry sky backdrop and captured by the artist with a smile playing on his lips, this charismatic gentleman is well turned out in a navy frock coat with a white waistcoat and stock, his hair and side whiskers powdered. A later inscription on the reverse names him as James Carpenter.

Born in 1768, James Carpenter was a noted bookseller, book-binder and publisher with premises at 14 Old Bond Street in central London where he worked between 1799 and 1850. In November 1789 he married 22-year-old Jennet Jane Hookham. The marriage was a short one as she died just six years later. Carpenter was Bookseller to the Duke of York and was an avid art collector. His knowledge and collection provided the inspiration for his only son, William Hookham Carpenter, to become an art critic and Keeper of the Print Room at the British Museum. James Carpenter died in 1852 at the age of 86 and is buried at Kensal Green cemetery.

The portrait is set in a gold bezel frame and, apart from some dust caught under the glass (most visible on his coat), is in good condition. The reverse side is not glazed. The inscription on the reverse, added after the sitter’s death in 1852, erroneously attributes the portrait to Andrew Plimer instead of to his brother Nathaniel whose style it more closely resembles –

Miniature of the / late Mr Jas Carpenter / of 14 Old Bond Street.
Painted by Mr / Andrew [sic] Plimer. / Painted about A.D. 1790

Nathaniel Plimer (1757-1822) was the eldest son of a Shropshire clockmaker, a trade he and his brother were expected to assume to. Instead the two boys chose to run away, reaching London in 1781 where Nathaniel initially worked for the enamellist Henry Bone and took painting lessons alongside his brother with Richard Cosway. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1787. Plimer is said to have been ‘a man of the most violent and ungovernable temper, giving way at times to terrible outbursts of violence’ (Williamson 1903).

Item Ref. 7068

Size: framed, 78 x 64 + ring

Provenance: Christies, December 1990