Search the Collections

Nathaniel Dance
Nationality: 
english
Gender: 
Male
Birth Date: 
1735
Birth Place: 
London
Death Date: 
1811
Death Place: 
Winchester
An English painter best known for his portraits, Nathaniel Dance was a founder of the Royal Academy of Arts who later became wealthy, ended his professional artistic career, was elected to the House of Commons, was created a baronet and added “Holland” to his name. Born in London in 1735, his father George Dance the Elder (d. 1768) was an architect and the Clerk of the Works for the City of London, who designed and supervised the construction of Mansion House, the home of the Lord Mayor of London. After attending the Merchant Taylor’s School, Nathaniel trained as an artist with the painter Francis Hayman (ca. 1708-1776) from about 1752 to 1754. Dance then went to study in Rome, arriving in 1754, and stayed there through 1765. Although he had ambitions as a history painter and completed at least two allegorical history pieces that he exhibited in London, he became a successful portrait painter, working with the Italian painter Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787). Dance’s subjects included a variety of English aristocrats, most notably Edward Augustus, Duke of York and Albany (1739-1767) (1764, London: Royal Collection). Dance also painted the portrait of the Swiss painter and printmaker Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), in 1764 (Cambridgeshire: Burghley House), with whom he fell in love. He was elected to the artists’ associations Accademia di San Luca of Rome in 1764 and the Accademia del disegno of Florence in 1765. Dance had returned in London by 1766, and became a well-known portrait painter, although he also created history paintings. Kauffman also went to London in 1766, but their romance did not continue. Both Dance and Kauffman were among the artists who petitioned King George III (1738-1820) to create a Royal Academy of Arts, which was done later that year. Dance exhibited portraits of the King and Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) as well as three other portraits in the Academy’s first exhibition in 1769. By the middle of the 1770s Dance became wealthy (perhaps by inheritance) and created fewer paintings, although he remained active in the Royal Academy. In 1782 he closed his studio and moved to Cranbury Park in Hampshire to reside with a very wealthy widow, Harriet Dummer (d. 1825), whom he married in 1783. Elected to Parliament in 1790, Dance resigned from the Royal Academy, the first Academician to do so, but exhibited a landscape in its exhibitions in 1792, 1794 and 1800 as an amateur. He also drew comic drawings and political caricatures. He served in Parliament until his death. In 1800 he received royal permission to add “Holland” to his name, and was made a baronet later that year. His wealth allowed Dance-Holland to have estates in Oxfordshire and Wiltshire and a house in London. Dance-Holland died suddenly while at a house party in Winchester in 1811. (TNB 3/2015) Selected bibliography: Goodreau, David. Nathaniel Dance. Exhibition catalog. London: Greater London Council, 1977. Ingamells, John, ed., A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy, 1701–1800. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.