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Zoomable Image of Portrait miniature of a Gentleman traditionally called General Fairfax wearing armour with a white tied cravat, set in a sky background, c.1655

Portrait miniature of a Gentleman traditionally called General Fairfax wearing armour with a white tied cravat, set in a sky background, c.1655

English School

Portrait miniature of a Gentleman traditionally called General Fairfax wearing armour with a white tied cravat, set in a sky background, c.1655

English School

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Price:

£3,200

Materials:

Oil on copper

Dimensions:

Oval, 1 5/8 in (40 mm) high

Provenance:

Private Collection, UK.

Frame:

Ebonised wooden frame

Few miniatures from this period display the same exceptional precision and handling as this work, especially given the scale, which is far smaller than the average oil miniature from this period...

This is one of the finest small-scale seventeenth-century oil miniatures that has appeared on the market in recent years and although the identity of the subject is not known, it was once thought to depict Thomas Lord Fairfax (1612-1671), the most prominent general of the English Civil War.

Another variant of this portrait, possibly painted in enamel, was in the collection of Reverend Alexander John Goldie Curwen (1848-1915), Rector of Dufton in Cumbria from 1880.[1] Reverend Curwen wrote to The Connoisseur in 1913, erroneously identifying the miniature as a portrait of General Fairfax by Jean Petitot the Elder, and appealed to readers for more information.[2] Likenesses of General Fairfax by Edward Bower, and engravings after Robert Walker, have been compared to this miniature but these unfortunately have a different physiognomy to the gentleman depicted here.

Although small oil portraits from this period are not necessarily uncommon, few display the exceptional precision and handling as this work, especially given the scale, which is far smaller than the average oil miniature from this period. By nature oils were a far more difficult medium to work with on a small scale, as the more viscous properties of the paint compared to watercolour made fine detailing more difficult and subtle highlighting much harder to achieve. None of these issues appear to have affected the artist of the present work, however, who handles the delicate lace cravat in a manner that many watercolour artists of the period would have struggled to replicate. The hair too has great depth and volume and the eyes, which are painted with great virtuosity and are full of life, suggests the artist was familiar with the style of the leading oil painters of the day, most notably Sir Peter Lely and his predecessor Sir Anthony van Dyck.

Interestingly, although smaller in scale, the artist of this portrait is working with similar compositions to Samuel Cooper (1609-1672). Cooper’s portraits of Robert Lilburne (1650), John Holles, 2nd Earl of Clare (1656) and James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch (1667) similarly depict subjects in armour half turned to the right, with a semi-circular glimpse of blue, clouded sky behind an indistinguishable background – possibly a rock or a tree trunk.[3] It can therefore be recognised that this artist, although now unknown, was probably working in London amongst the most highly-skilled portrait miniaturists of the seventeenth century.



[1] The Connoisseur, vol XXXVI, June 1913, p.89.

[2] The Connoisseur, vol XXXVI, June 1913, p.120.

[3] D.Foskett, Samuel Cooper and his contemporaries (London, 1974), pp. 24, 30 & 56.

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