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Portrait, Mezzotint, William O’Brien, Francis Cotes, Antique Print, London, Late 18th Century


Francis Cotes (1726-1770) (after)
James Watson (c. 1740-1790) (engraver)
Mr. O’Brien
Robert Sayer (1725-1794), London: Late 18th Century
Mezzotint, uncolored
13.5 x 9.5 inches, sheet

Portrait of actor William O’Brien (d. 1815), set within an oval dimensional design, a device the artist, Francis Cotes, also used in other portraits. Another copy of this mezzotint is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London.

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O’Brien was brought to London by David Garrick (1717-1779), a prominent actor and theater manager who had probably seen him act in Dublin. He was one of the premier actors in England for about five years in the 1760’s.

Francis Cotes was a British painter and pastel artist at a time when pastel and crayon portraits became very popular. He favored bold contrasts and strong lines as opposed to delicate shading. In the mid 1750’s, his style was influenced by the Swiss pastellist Jean Etienne Liotard, who was staying in London, and Cotes abandoned the Rococo style for one based on realism and naturalistic poses. Some of his portraits reached a wider public by being made into engravings. Today, 45 of his portraits are in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London.

James Watson was born in Ireland, then settled in London, where he learned engraving. He became one of the leading mezzotint engravers of the day, including 56 plates after the paintings of Joshua Reynolds. The majority of his work was for Sayer, Boydell and other printsellers but he published some plates himself. Watson exhibited at the Society of Artists from 1762 to 1775.

Over the course of a 50-year career, Robert Sayer became one of the leading 18th Century publishers of maps, charts, and prints. He also produced prints after George Stubbs, illustrations for novels, books on carpentry, and printed music.

Condition: Generally very good with the usual toning, wear, soiling, soft creases. A rich impression. Sheet trimmed close to image on sides and top, as is often the case with separately issued 18th-century mezzotint portraits.


“Francis Cotes.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. 2000. Online at (7 May 2002).

Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members.” Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History. 2001. (5 March 2002) and (7 May 2002).

“NPG D5375 William O’Brien.” National Portrait Gallery. 2002. (7 May 2002).

Additional information


18th Century