Christian Richter (1678-1732)
Richter's attention to detail - such as the earring indicated through the slightest of touches of gold leaf - caused his likenesses to be considered 'really better than any other of his contemporaries' by renowned diarist George Vertue...
Painted by the Swedish artist Christian Richter, this miniature shows a fashionable young woman of the early eighteenth century. The elegant curls of her hair cascading down her right shoulder, the sitter is shown in a blue silk dress with a pink-coloured shawl draped over her shoulders – two colours that were at the time commonly associated with the Virgin Mary. A hair sash placed in the sitter’s hair subtly echoes the blues of the dress and does much to enhance the vogueish pallor of the sitter’s skin.
Christian Richter came to England in either 1702 or 1704. Upon his arrival, Richter worked hard to translate his position of natural disadvantage as a foreigner to his own benefit. He formed strong professional bonds with his fellow Swedes; these included Michael Dahl, one of the foremost portraitists of the early eighteenth century, and Hans Huysing, an engraver who had been known to Richter from his time in Sweden. By allowing his excellent talents as a copyist to help disseminate the works of these peers, Richter found that work and patrons came readily.
From Sir James Thornhill, painter of the dome of St. Paul’s, to poet Matthew Prior, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, and even Queen Anne herself, Richter produced likenesses of many of the most illustrious figures of the Augustan Age. For diarist and commentator George Vertue, Richter’s ability to take likenesses from life was ‘really better than any other of his contemporaries’, causing him to be ranked with Bernard Lens and Christian Zincke as one of the most sought-after miniaturists of early eighteenth-century London. Indeed, the skill that earned Richter such worthy plaudits is readily apparent in the miniature at hand. See, for instance, the earring indicated through the slightest of touches of gold leaf. Attention to detail of this kind was one of Richter’s hallmarks as was his ability to copy the most revered English masters of his day – Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Sir Peter Lely, Sir Godfrey Kneller and Michael Dahl. For Daphne Foskett, Richter’s ability to these works in miniature faithfully whilst retaining his own style elevated him to the rank of a ‘first rate miniaturist’.
In his last years, it was primarily for his work as a copyist that Richter was renowned. According to Vertue, a horrific venereal disease left Richter scarred and disfigured to the point that he was no longer presentable in front of society sitters. As a result, ever adept, the artist refined his talent for reproducing the works of other artists. Refusing to be cast down by his illness, Richter made virtue out of necessity by trying his hand at the technique of enamelling – which, with great alacrity, the artist had realised held a particularly lucrative commercial value. Despite the advancement of his years, Vertue records that his skills as an enamellist extraordinarily quickly and that he came close to mastering the technique ‘to great perfection’. Sadly, however, this was to be frustrated by his death, in spite of his indomitability, in November 1732.