James Nixon c.1741-1812
The sitter may be an actress, her hand outstretched as though performing in a role...
This exceptionally large miniature appears to form part of a group of portraits by James Nixon showing young women in naturalistic settings or posing as mythological characters. The sitter may be an actress, her hand outstretched as though performing in a role. Nixon’s connections within the theatrical world may have influenced his compositions as an artist, as he painted Elizabeth Farren and other notable actors. He worked on illustrations, had some oil paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy and had several of his portraits engraved, including those of the Duchess of Devonshire and the sisters Jenny and Nelly Bennet.
James Nixon was an extremely talented miniaturist, with a highly sophisticated and largely aristocratic clientele. Despite this, his miniatures are far rarer than those by his contemporaries and he was not financially successful. His works in miniature show an innate understanding of some of the great oil painters of the day, in particular Sir Joshua Reynolds. This ‘grand’ style of painting in miniature probably earned him his celebrity following, with those in the world of the theatre particularly attracted to his dramatically large and painterly miniatures.
 See, for example, the portrait of Mary Elton as ‘Ophelia’ in the collection at Clevedon Court or the portrait of Portrait of Elizabeth Farren (1759–1829), later Countess of Derby, holding a mask (private collection)
 He was ultimately obliged to request a pension from the Royal Academy.