Joseph Highmore, a twenty-two-year-old law student who was to become a successful portrait painter and illustrator of the works of his friend Samuel Richardson, was taken in 1714 to the house of a painter named Vanderstraeten in Drury Lane. In his painting room at the top of the house the Dutch artist had large pans of paint containing what he called ‘cloud colour’, blues and whites, as well as greens, reds and browns. ‘He hired a long garret,’ commented Highmore, ‘where he painted cloths many feet in length … and painted the whole at once, continuing the sky … from one end to the other, and then several grounds etc., til the whole was one long landscape. This he cut and sold by parcels as demanded to fit chimnies etc., and those who dealt in this way would go to his house and buy three or four, or any number of feet of landscapes.’ Despite the mechanical nature of his task, the painter impressed Highmore: ‘And notwithstanding they were so slight even these pictures were not altogether devoid of merit, for he had something like genius and taste … and did all that could be done in the time he allowed himself. He was the first man I ever saw paint, and I may perhaps be partial to him on that account, having had great pleasure when young in visiting him.’ Vanderstraeten’s labours inspired Highmore: within a year he had left his legal studies, set up as a portrait painter and begun to attend the academy of art founded in 1711 by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Principal Painter to the king. Highmore’s first acquaintance with painting reveals much about the state of the British

art market at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The first painter he met was a Dutchman; his first teacher, Kneller, was a German from Lübeck. The production of art in London was dominated by foreigners – French and Italian decorative painters, Dutch engravers and landscape painters, portrait painters from Sweden to Austria. In 1714 there was little or no English tradition of painting, though eventually Highmore contributed valuably to creating one. As Vanderstraeten’s piece-work reveals, art was a commodity whose chief market was

the private patron or, perhaps more aptly, customer – a gentleman, merchant or member of the professions – who wanted painting as a form of decoration, as what at the time was often described as ‘furniture’. The social standing of the people who commissioned pictures – whether landscapes, portraits or some sort of decorative work – varied greatly, but the function of the pictures was the same: they were intended for private use, not public exhibition. Vanderstraeten’s address and circumstances – in a garret near Drury Lane – is

significant: poor rewards and low status were the lot of most modern painters. For the fruits of the art market went in the first instance to the dealer, not the artist; large profits

were made through the sale of ‘Old Masters’, only in exceptional circumstances by contemporary painters. The Dutch painter, as the well-read Highmore was no doubt aware, resembled the Grub Street hack. He produced a commodity for a price; worked for hire, and he lived and worked on the top storey of a building in a district famous for its whoring, squalor and crime.