My Favourite painting: James Simpson

James Simpson chooses The Tailor by Moroni as his favourite painting

The Tailor, 1565–70, by Giovanni Battista Moroni (1520/4–79), 39½in by 30½in,
National Gallery, London

James Simpson says: ‘The concept of making and craft is key to those of us lucky enough to work in the wine trade. In the absence of a portrait of a wine merchant by Moroni, his tailor seems to embody all that we need to know about concentration, skill and the art of the maker.

I am very lucky to have a Victorian copy of The Tailor, discovered in a falling-down house deep in the West Sussex countryside. I failed to buy the house, but bought the painting for £100 and, now cleaned, it hangs on the landing at home as a quiet reminder’

James Simpson is Managing Director of Pol Roger Ltd and Chairman of the Wine and Spirit Education Trust

John McEwen comments on The Tailor: ‘George Eliot wrote of Mr Grandcourt in Daniel Deronda that he was like ‘a portrait by Moroni, who would have rendered wonderfully the impenetrable gaze and air of distinction; and a portrait by that great master would have been quite as lively a companion as Grandcourt was disposed to be’. Moroni painted his share of altarpieces, but he is famed for his portraits. He was born in Albino, province of Bergamo, in the far north of Italy, and served his apprenticeship at nearby Brescia in the studio of Moretto (Alessandro Bonvicino).

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From 1550–1, he was in Trent at the time of the great council convoked by Paul III to clarify Catholic doctrine and teaching as a force against Protestantism. For the first time, Moroni attracted an aristocratic clientele, but, by 1560, he was settled once again in provincial Albino, where his portrait subjects represented the professional class. One of them, The Tailor, is his most famous picture. A gentleman did not work.

To have a master of portraiture, a trade in the service of the leisured high and mighty, paint a working man—moreover, a working man at work—was ground-breaking. Moroni shows the tailor spreading a piece of black cloth across a bench; chalk marks bindicate it is ready to be cut.

The Victorian academician Sir Charles Eastlake PRA, dynamic Keeper of the new National Gallery, bought the picture for the collection in 1862. The purchase was symptomatic of a fashion for the previously unconsidered Moroni. Only Bergamo has more Moronis than the 11 in the National’s collection. ‘

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