Anne Damer was perhaps the only female sculptor of note working in England at this time.

This portrait by Richard Cosway has traditionally been thought to represent his close friend, the sculptor Anne Damer. Damer, a granddaughter of the 4th Duke of Argyll. An extraordinary woman, she cut a solitary figure as perhaps the only female sculptor of note working in England at this time. Her greatest supporter was a figure at the forefront of English cultural life, Horace Walpole. Such was Walpole’s affection for Anne, who acted as something of a surrogate daughter, that he left his life’s crowning achievement – his pioneering Gothick pile at Strawberry Hill – to her on his death in 1797.

Damer was, however, painted and drawn by Cosway many times and the features of this sitter do not correspond closely enough to extant works to be confident that this portrait does indeed represent her. Damer herself was unconventional and bold, living a life filled with extraordinary events and refusing to have her path restricted by the bonds...

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This portrait by Richard Cosway has traditionally been thought to represent his close friend, the sculptor Anne Damer. Damer, a granddaughter of the 4th Duke of Argyll. An extraordinary woman, she cut a solitary figure as perhaps the only female sculptor of note working in England at this time. Her greatest supporter was a figure at the forefront of English cultural life, Horace Walpole. Such was Walpole’s affection for Anne, who acted as something of a surrogate daughter, that he left his life’s crowning achievement – his pioneering Gothick pile at Strawberry Hill – to her on his death in 1797.

Damer was, however, painted and drawn by Cosway many times and the features of this sitter do not correspond closely enough to extant works to be confident that this portrait does indeed represent her. Damer herself was unconventional and bold, living a life filled with extraordinary events and refusing to have her path restricted by the bonds of marriage. The present portrait shows a rather more demure figure, possibly also younger than Damer by this date of circa 1795 when she was in her late forties. The sitter here gazes at the viewer with a gentle smile, her hands clasped beneath her stomach in a pose which may indicate that she was pregnant. Perhaps the most telling feature of this portrait, in relation to its previous identification as Damer, is the wedding ring suspended from a chain at her neck. Damer left her husband after his debts became too great for him to hope to repay. Two years later, in 1776, John Damer – Anne’s estranged husband – shot himself following a particularly large loss at the gambling table. His companions for the evening had been, according to Walpole, four prostitutes and a blind fiddler.

Although it has not been possible to identify the sitter from the coat of arms engraved on the reverse of the miniature, a lock of hair held under a glazed compartment is testament to this miniature being a personal gift, likely given to the sitter’s husband. This is one of Cosway’s most complex miniatures, unusual in including the sitter’s hands, painted at the height of the artist’s career.

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500 Years of British Art