Matt Ramagge explores how François-Xavier Fabre's striking 'Portrait of a Man' has become synonymous with one of literature's most famous Romantic heroes.
Many of us are familiar with Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s tale of Regency romance featuring the five husband-hunting Bennet sisters and their interaction with the now-iconic Mr Darcy.
Over the years the fictional Mr Darcy has been brought to life by numerous actors on screen, from Laurence Olivier (1940) to Matthew Macfadyen (2005). For some he will be most associated with Colin Firth in the 1995 BBC TV series. However, visitors to the Scottish National Gallery have decided that one of our paintings might also bear a striking resemblance to the dashing Mr Darcy.
Austen first began writing a version of Pride and Prejudice in 1796 (under the name First Impressions) at the age of 20, but it was turned down by publishers. In 1811 her first novel, Sense and Sensibility was published, which led her to revise her previous work. It wasn’t until 1813 that Pride and Prejudice was finally released. Our painting Portrait of a Man, by François-Xavier Fabre, was painted in 1809, so it fits in perfectly with the fashion and period described in Austen’s novel. While there is a partially legible pencil inscription that reads 'M Camille', no formal identification of the man in the painting has been made, which perhaps leads the identity of the sitter more open to imaginative interpretation. Indeed, it isn’t just visitors to our Gallery that have come to assocciate our painting with Darcy - it now appears as the book cover for numerous editions of Pride and Prejudice.
Darcy’s popularity as a character has led to numerous Pride and Prejudice spin-off titles too, such as Maya Slater’s, The Private Diary of Mr Darcy, and in the United States our painting is, once again, used as the book cover to represent him. Amanda Grange’s publishers have used the painting twice, in two of her own Darcy spin-off titles – that of Mr Darcy’s Diary in Italian. And in somewhat different takes, our painting is used to imagine Mr Darcy as a vampire.
This week sees another twist in the Pride and Prejudice tale – the cinematic release of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies this time with Sam Riley in the Darcy role. In this instance, however, our painting has not been 'Zombiefied' for the film tie-in book cover.