Nathaniel Dance RA (1735 - 1811)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

The painter Nathaniel Dance was the son of George Dance (c.1694-1768), an architect best-known for designing the lord mayor of London’s mansion house (1739-52). After attending Merchant Taylors’ School (his father was a freeman of the company), Dance studied under the painter Francis Hayman, whose rococo style informed his early work. He then spent time in Italy with his brother George, who later became a notable architect, studying the old masters and working alongside the grand-manner portrait painter Pompeo Batoni.

Beginning with his Death of Virginia (1760), Dance sought to develop as a history painter. He continued to exhibit works in this vein throughout his career, concluding with The Death of Mark Anthony (exh. Royal Academy, 1776). However, eighteenth-century Britain provided few opportunities for history painters, and it was portraiture that brought Dance most success. As early as 1764 he was commissioned to paint a full-length portrait of Edward, duke of York, on behalf of George III. Other subjects painted during this time included the artist Angelica Kauffmann, whom Dance reputedly courted while in Rome.

On his return to London in 1766, Dance established himself as a fashionable portrait painter. Like his brother George, Dance became a Founder Member of the Royal Academy. He sent full-length portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte to its inaugural exhibition in 1769. Dance resigned from the Academy in 1790, although along with Thomas Gainsborough and his brother George he is not represented in Johan Zoffany’s famous group portrait The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy (1771-2). This omission has been attributed to a dispute with (RA president) Sir Joshua Reynolds which led Dance and Gainsborough to decline from exhibiting in 1773. However, unlike Gainsborough, who boycotted RA exhibitions until 1777, Dance briefly resumed exhibiting there from 1774.

By this time Dance was producing fewer paintings and he stopped exhibiting professionally in 1776, although he continued to design political caricatures and occasionally exhibited at the Royal Academy as an amateur. Dance cultivated the position as a gentleman, giving up his studio and moving to the country. From 1790 Dance served as MP for East Grinstead, Sussex and Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire (and was generally supportive of Pitt), and in 1800 he was created a baronet. In later life, Dance enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle and owned several properties, partly through his marriage to Mrs Harriet Dummer in 1783.

Dance died, suddenly, in Winchester on 15 October 1811, while humorously describing to a party of ladies the ‘absurdity’ of some monuments recently placed in Winchester Cathedral—where he was subsequently buried.


Royal Academician

Foundation Member

Born: 18 May 1735 in London

Died: 15 October 1811

Nationality: British

Elected RA: 10 December 1768

Resigned: 01 Nov 1790

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting

Works by Nathaniel Dance in the RA Collection

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Works after Nathaniel Dance in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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