Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hussey, Giles

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HUSSEY, GILES (1710–1788), painter, born at Marnhull, Dorsetshire, on 10 Feb. 1710, was fifth son of John Hussey of Marnhull, by his wife, Mary, daughter of Thomas Burdett of Smithfield. Hussey was educated at the English Benedictine college at Douay, and afterwards at St. Omer. His father at first intended him for commerce, but, recognising his taste for art, placed him as pupil under Jonathan Richardson [q.v.], the portrait-painter. Hussey soon left Richardson to study under Vincenzo Damini, a Venetian painter in some vogue. With Damini he worked for four years. While assisting his master to paint the ornaments on the ceiling of the cathedral at Lincoln, he nearly met with a fatal accident, and his life was saved only by Damini's promptitude. In 1730 Hussey persuaded his parents to advance sufficient money to enable him to accompany Damini, who was returning to Italy, and to prosecute his studies at Rome. Hussey and Damini proceeded through France, where Damini spent most of the money, and after their arrival at Bologna Damini decamped with all Hussey's property. Hussey, left friendless and penniless, was temporarily relieved by Signer Ghislonzoni, a former Venetian ambassador in London. He studied three and a half years in Bologna, and in 1733 went to Rome, where he became an intimate friend and pupil of Ercole Lelli, a painter of repute at the time. At Rome Hussey, who was fond of pursuing abstract mathematical inquiries, sought to ascertain and determine the true principles of beauty in nature. These he eventually claimed to have discovered, or to have had mysteriously revealed to him, in the musical scale of harmonies. He elaborated his theory most minutely, especially in its application to the human face, and made many beautiful chalk drawings of heads to illustrate it.

At Rome Hussey, as a devoted Roman catholic, became a firm adherent of the younger Pretender, Charles Edward, and drew many chalk portraits of him. In 1737 he returned to England with a high reputation as a painter and man of learning, but disappointed public expectation by retiring into the country. He painted very little, and tried to obtain recognition for his peculiar theories on art. Being compelled to take to portrait-painting as a means of livelihood, he settled in London in 1742, and was patronised by Matthew Duane [q.v.] and by the Duke of Northumberland. The latter offered him a home in his house, and bought many of his drawings. Hussey resented the indifference shown to his theories, which he attributed to the jealousy of other artists; he grew eccentric and depressed, and in 1768, after struggling against many difficulties, he gave up painting altogether, and removed to the house of his brother James at Marnhull. On his brother's death, in 1773, he succeeded to the estates, and occupied himself principally with gardening. In 1787 he resigned his property to his sister's son, John Rowe, and, determining to adopt the life of a religious recluse, removed to a house belonging to Rowe at Beaston, near Ashburton. There Hussey died suddenly, in June 1788. He was buried at Broadhempston, Devonshire.

Hussey was an excellent draughtsman, and his drawings, especially his heads done in chalk, were executed with elaborate neatness and purity of outline. They are, however, cold and spiritless, owing to his rigid adherence to his theories of proportion. There are examples in the print room at the British Museum, together with drawings from gems made by him in illustration of his theories, and others from frescoes of Lodovico Carracci and Guido at Bologna. Hussey was a frequent visitor at Wardour Castle, where there is a portrait of him, together with examples of his drawings. He was extolled extravagantly by some of his contemporaries, and Barry placed his portrait behind that of Phidias in his 'Elysium' at the Society of Arts in the Adelphi. A portrait, from a drawing by himself (now at Lulworth Castle, together with several of his portrait-drawings), was published, with a memoir, in Hutchins's 'History of Dorset,' iv. 185 (1792); and another, with a memoir, is in Nichols's 'Literary Anecdotes,' viii. 177.

[Memoirs mentioned above; Britton's Beauties of Wiltshire; Maton's Tour through the Western Counties; Gillow's Bibl. Dict. of English Catholics; Warner's Walks round Bath; Vertue's MSS. (Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 23076).]

L. C.