Thursday, 10 May 2018

JEM WHARTON





I'm delighted to say that the portrait of 19th century pugilist JEM WHARTON is now on display in the National Portrait Gallery, Room 19.   The owner first brought this to my attention following 'Black Victorians',  when the sitter's identity was unknown apart from an old label 'Young Molineux', which was one of the terms applied to Jem Wharton, who at the date of this painting (1839) ran a tavern-cum-training-ring, as so many fighters did on retirement.   The artist was Liverpool-based William Daniels, himself of working-class origins, who specialized in local portraits and genre figures.
'Young Molineux' references the best-known Black prizefighter of the previous generation, Tom Molineaux.  

Another of Wharton's fighting names was 'the Moroccan Prince', no doubt bestowed on him by those who promoted pugilism in reference to his complexion, although in the 1851 census Wharton's birthplace was given as London. In the era before Queensberry rules, when bare-knuckle fighting was outlawed but still popular, competitive pugilism was semi-clandestine and often deliberately obscured, so records are uncertain. 
I'm hoping that the rediscovery of the portrait will lead to new researches and sources.
 
Here Jem Wharton is seen in fighting garb, with a sash that, as the precursor of a belt, signified previous victories.  These had all been bare-knuckle contests, but here he's  wearing gloves, which at this date were coming into use in training, sparring and demonstration bouts, which very often took place in rings at the back of pubs, which would fit the nondescript indoor setting here, with Wharton posed as if about to commence or return to sparring.  Later, boxers were always shown with fists raised as if about to punch an opponent.

The portrait's history is unknown before its acquisition by the lender in London in the 1960s.  The now rather distressed frame   appears to be original.

Wharton's image joins that of Ira Aldridge, just across the room, alongside other 18thcentury celebs





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