The artist of this imposing portrait miniature was Richard Gibson, who was known as ‘Dwarf Gibson’ in his circle. He was a well-known, celebrated personality at the court of Charles I and Henrietta Maria – he and his wife Anne (nee Sheppard) were married in 1641, with the bride ‘given away’ by the king. Gibson was famed at court for both his diminutive statue and his talents as an artist. Born in Cumberland, he began his career as an apprentice in a tapestry works before entering the household of Philip Herbert 4th Earl of Pembroke.

By 1639, Gibson was employed in the court as a ‘Page of the Back-Stairs’, experiencing great popularity with the King. Through the catalogue of Abraham van der Doort, keeper of the royal collection, we know that by this point Gibson was actively painting, for the former recounts the artist copying ‘the Picture of Adonis Venus Cupid and some doggs by Peter Oliver after Titian’....

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The artist of this imposing portrait miniature was Richard Gibson, who was known as ‘Dwarf Gibson’ in his circle. He was a well-known, celebrated personality at the court of Charles I and Henrietta Maria – he and his wife Anne (nee Sheppard) were married in 1641, with the bride ‘given away’ by the king. Gibson was famed at court for both his diminutive statue and his talents as an artist. Born in Cumberland, he began his career as an apprentice in a tapestry works before entering the household of Philip Herbert 4th Earl of Pembroke.

By 1639, Gibson was employed in the court as a ‘Page of the Back-Stairs’, experiencing great popularity with the King. Through the catalogue of Abraham van der Doort, keeper of the royal collection, we know that by this point Gibson was actively painting, for the former recounts the artist copying ‘the Picture of Adonis Venus Cupid and some doggs by Peter Oliver after Titian’. Following Pembroke’s death, Gibson attached himself to Charles, 2nd Earl of Carnarvon, Pembroke’s grandson, and throughout the Interregnum painted many people of that circle including Lady Elizabeth Dormer [V&A] and Elizabeth, Countess of Carnarvon [Scottish National Portrait Gallery; exhibited at Philip Mould & Co ‘Warts and All’ 2013 no.37].

The present portrait, likely representing a young gentleman of some means, was painted ten years into the Restoration of King Charles II. By this time, Gibson was undeniably successful and by the late 1660s he changed his signature from ‘DG’, for ‘Dwarf’ or maybe ‘Dick’ to ‘RG’ for Richard, a pertinent display of his new status. After Samuel Cooper’s death Gibson was pronounced the King’s Limner, however one year later was succeeded by Nicholas Dixon, and appointed drawing-master to the daughters of the Duke of York.

The present work stands out from Gibson’s oeuvre with the use of more vibrant colour than his typical palette, which was largely shades of brown and ochre. By this date, Gibson was an illustrious figure at court, even engaging in some diplomatic duties such as his role as escort to Princess Mary in Amsterdam for her marriage to Prince William of Orange in 1677. Trusted as both steadfast courtier and virtuoso court artist, it is unsurprising that the young man in the present work turned to Gibson for his portrait at this date. By the 1670s fewer of Gibson’s works were signed, perhaps indicating that his work was now recognisable by the quality and technique alone.

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500 Years of British Art