Richard Crosse (1742-1810)
This kind of historical dress was immensely popular in the period, and could be seen prevalently both in portraits and at masquerade balls from the 1730s onwards...
This dynamic portrait, showing a young man in ‘Van Dyckian’ dress, was painted by Richard Crosse, one of the more prominent portrait miniature painters of the eighteenth century.
Costume plays a central role in this portrait and the sitter is shown wearing a wig coiffed in the most up-to-date fashion of the eighteenth century, but is at the same time wearing a ‘Van Dyck’ collar over a slashed pale blue doublet, adding an air of historical fancy to the image. This kind of historical dress was immensely popular in the period, and could be seen prevalently both in portraits and at masquerade balls from the 1730s onwards.
The popularity of Van Dyck-style clothing pays testament to the immense influence of the portraitist in cultivating the image of the British aristocracy; the air of studied nonchalance and effortless hauteur with which the Flemish painter was able to imbue his sitters was seen as the ne plus ultra of aristocratic image-making. It comes as little surprise, therefore, that portrait painters of this period should so frequently have returned to his example. From Johan Zoffany’s portrait of George III and his family (1770) in the Royal Collection, to Thomas Gainsborough’s ‘The Blue Boy’ (1779), all of the most significant portraitists of this period proved the old adage that imitation is the highest form of flattery.
However, in contrast to these painters – all of whom worked in oils – Richard Crosse, working on a miniature scale and in watercolours, was required to emulate the essence of Van Dyck without deploying bravura brushwork. Thus, the brilliance of this image lies in the meticulousness of Crosse’s work on a miniature support. Born deaf, he had begun his career as an amateur before moving to London by 1758 to take up a premium from the Society of Artists. His works soon became highly sought-after and in 1760 he began to exhibit at the Society of Artists; he would continue to display his works here until 1791, also exhibiting at the Free Society of Artists from 1761-66 and at the Royal Academy from 1770-96.
Crosse was mainly a painter in watercolours, but he also experimented successfully in the mediums of enamel and oil. Particularly famed for the brilliance of his colours, Crosse’s ledgers – preserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum – provide a rare insight into the studio of a highly successful miniaturist in this period, providing a detailed record of commissions and sittings. Between 1777 and 1780 alone, Crosse was commissioned for over one hundred miniatures. Crosse’s professional success was cemented by his images of high-profile sitters, which included members of the royal family; indeed, several likenesses by Crosse survive in the Royal Collection today.
Although the rate of his commissions began to drop off in the later years of his life, with Crosse eventually retiring in 1798, the consistent high quality of his output means that he should be ranked alongside Ozias Humphry, Jeremiah Meyer and Andrew Plimer as one of the finest miniaturists of his age. Crosse’s professional success was not, however, matched in amorous terms. He never married and was reportedly heartbroken after his great love, his cousin Sarah Cobley, rejected him in favour of fellow artist Benjamin Haydon. Following his retirement, Crosse moved to Wells in Somerset, where he lived the last twelve years of his life with his brother until his death in 1810.