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Zoomable Image of Portrait miniature of an Unknown Lady, wearing blue dress, pearl necklace and earrings, her natural auburn hair decorated with pearls, pulled back and worn curled, mid-1650s

Portrait miniature of an Unknown Lady, wearing blue dress, pearl necklace and earrings, her natural auburn hair decorated with pearls, pulled back and worn curled, mid-1650s

Matthew Snelling (1621-78)

Portrait miniature of an Unknown Lady, wearing blue dress, pearl necklace and earrings, her natural auburn hair decorated with pearls, pulled back and worn curled, mid-1650s

Matthew Snelling (1621-78)

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Price:

£6,750

Materials:

Watercolour on vellum

Dimensions:

Oval, 2 15/16 in (65 mm) high

Provenance:

E. J. Clark Collection; Sotheby's, London, 26 November 1973, lot 100

Frame:

Gilt-metal frame

The expensive gown and pearls worn by the sitter appear to defy the conservative dress code expected of this period, but few women painted in miniature appear to adhere to this in the most secret type of portrait...

Matthew Snelling was described by Horace Walpole as a ‘gentleman’, and like other reasonably well-off men and women of this period appears to have been part way between a professional artist and learned amateur.[1] There is no indication of an apprenticeship, either through documentary evidence or technique and he may have been self-taught. Snelling was close to the circle of Samuel Cooper (1609-72), considered to be the best miniaturist of the age, if not the best portraitist in any medium. Many of his techniques may have been gleaned from Cooper, over ten years his senior. The connection between the two men goes back to the earlier part of Cooper’s career, when he drew the young man in 1644 (whereabouts unknown).[2]

Snelling may have also earned a living as an artist’s supplier, as there is a reference in one of Vertue’s notebooks to him supplying ‘parcels of Pink’ to Mary Beale in 1654 and 1658.[3] Via his family, he certainly knew the Beales well and shared East Anglian connections with them and Nathaniel Thach.[4] He kept a house in the country (his family home of Little Horringer Hall in Suffolk, which still stands) but also had a residence in London: firstly in St Martin-in-the Fields, and subsequently (after his marriage in 1664) in Long Acre - the same street as John Hoskins the younger and close to Cooper’s house in Henrietta Street. The inclusion of one of his works in Michael Rosse’s sale of 1723 suggests that he was also acquainted with the Gibson and Rosse families, and was therefore privy to the central hub of court artists and artisans clustered in London by the middle of the seventeenth century.

Snelling was clearly a clever and competent artist, able to paint with some distinction and he enjoyed a sustained level of patronage. His earliest miniature was of a royal subject – Charles I, from a Van Dyck, dated 1647 (Chiddingstone Castle). His subjects were often members of the court, which he frequented in his appointment as esquire of the body to the king (an appointment he regained in 1660). It is from this arena that this portrait of a courtly lady is taken, datable to the mid-1650s, during Oliver Cromwell’s puritanical rule. The expensive gown and pearls worn by the sitter appear to defy the conservative dress code expected of this period, but few women painted in miniature appear to adhere to this in the most secret type of portrait.



[1] This description could also apply to other artists in Samuel Cooper’s circle, such as Thomas Flatman (1635-88), who also held distinction as both a lawyer and a poet.

[2] This portrait is described by both Vertue and Walpole, sold by Michael Rosse, husband of the artist Susannah-Penelope Rosse, who notes ‘in Michael Rose’s sale, 1723, was a head of Snelling by Cooper, 1644, finely painted but the hands and drapery poor.’ (Walpole, Anecdotes, p.329). If drawn in chalk, as opposed to a watercolour miniature, this may indicate a close relationship between the two men as Cooper largely reserved his drawings for informal use.

[3] Vertue vol.4, p.168; Beale records some near-transactions with him in his ‘Notebooks’ (1671), where Snelling offers a rather disrespectful low price for a painting. His offer to buy a painting by the celebrated artist Hans Rottenhamer (1564-1625) may, however, suggest he had acquired some level of wealth by that date.

[4] Mary Edmond, ‘Limners and Picturemakers’, Walpole Society, XLVII, London 1980, p.107, discovered Snelling’s geographical connections to the Craddocks, Mary Beale’s family.


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