William Prewett (fl.1735-55)
The curved reverse of this portrait enamel and the empty socket to one side of the frame indicates that this portrait would have been worn as a bracelet, almost certainly by the sitter’s wife...
This vibrant portrait of a confident young gentleman demonstrates William Prewett’s skill at producing accomplished and decorative portraits in enamel, a highly challenging medium. Each colour in an enamel portrait had to be fired separately and if heated too quickly, the enamel was prone to crack and the portrait would have to be started again.
William Prewett (or Prewitt) was born in Suffolk and trained in the studio of the German enamellist Christian Friedrich Zincke. Zincke’s own master, Charles Boit, had made enamel portraits popular in England during the 1680s and by the time William Prewett reached the peak of his career in the 1740s, enameling was at the height of its popularity. Prewett’s work is rare but shows a wide group of patrons, including King George II and Frederick, Prince of Wales [Royal Collection], and Horace Walpole as a young man [Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry]. The Victoria and Albert Museum houses an ambitious family group by Prewett depicting Mr. and Mrs. Knight with her son, Mr. Newsham. This group further establishes Prewett’s connection to Zincke, who also worked for the family.
The curved reverse of this portrait enamel and the empty socket to one side of the frame indicates that this portrait would have been worn as a bracelet, almost certainly by the sitter’s wife. In contrast to portrait miniatures painted in watercolour, enamels were able to demonstrate a jewel-like quality and bright colours that would not fade, as can be seen by the present sitter’s scarlet coat and blue waistcoat.