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Zoomable Image of Portrait miniature of a Lady, wearing a white dress with blue trim and lace collar, a blue hat with bow decorated with a white feather, her hair worn with hanging ringlets

Portrait miniature of a Lady, wearing a white dress with blue trim and lace collar, a blue hat with bow decorated with a white feather, her hair worn with hanging ringlets

Samuel Shelley (1750-1808)

Portrait miniature of a Lady, wearing a white dress with blue trim and lace collar, a blue hat with bow decorated with a white feather, her hair worn with hanging ringlets

Samuel Shelley (1750-1808)

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Price:

£3,850

Materials:

Watercolour on ivory

Dimensions:

Oval, 1 7/8 in (48 mm) high

Provenance:

Private Collection, France.

Inscriptions:

Inscribed on reverse of ivory: ‘S. Shelley / Henrietta Street / Cov.t Garden’.

Frame:

Gilt metal frame with raised decorative motif to verso, bordered with pearls

At his best, as seen here, Shelley was capable of producing a high level of romanticism in his portraits, bestowing, through a slight twist of head or pensive gaze, a distinct level of engagement on his subjects...

The present work, painted by the great portrait miniaturist Samuel Shelley, is a glamourous example of portrait miniature painting in late-eighteenth century England.

At his best, as seen here, Shelley was capable of producing a high level of romanticism in his portraits, bestowing, through a slight twist of head or pensive gaze, a distinct level of engagement on his subjects. By the late eighteenth century, British portraiture had already experienced an overhaul by the likes of Sir Joshua Reynolds, champion of the Grand Style, and it was now the turn of these later artists, working in both large and miniature scale, to further this development. Different artists appealed to different groups of patrons, and whereas a wealthy merchant-class conservative gentleman may have sat to someone like John Smart, a young, glamourous political hostess may have chosen to be imbued with the swaggerish qualities dispensed by an artist like George Engleheart or Samuel Shelley. The sitter in this work, who is at present unknown, was clearly au fait with the latest fashions, and subsequently great emphasis has been placed on the curls of her hair and cut of her dress. An inscription on the reverse on this work gives Shelley’s address as Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, where he worked during the peak of his career between 1784 and 1794.

Samuel Shelley was a highly successful artist who worked in a number of mediums, although is perhaps best known for these instantly recognisable portrait miniatures of society beauties. Shelley was a native of London and followed a relatively conventional route into his chosen career, and after winning the much coveted premium prize awarded annually by the Society of Arts at the age of fourteen, entered the Royal Academy Schools on 21st March 1774. After studying at the R.A. schools (and exhibiting there 1774-1804), he became an important voice in the history of watercolour painting in the eighteenth century. A founder member of the first watercolour society in 1805, he believed that watercolours should be given their own forum and exhibition space in order to be properly appreciated. Before the formation of such a society, watercolours could only be shown next to oils at the conventional exhibition spaces of the Society of Artists or Royal Academy. This new separation from brightly coloured, large oil paintings allowed watercolours to be viewed among paintings in the same media and heralded a new admiration of such work. Shelley’s desire to compete with oil paintings also led him to produce small watercolour subject pictures to exhibit alongside the portrait miniatures he painted all his life.

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