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These fine portrait miniatures by Sarah Biffin depict a married couple, Anna Eliza Lamb (nee Rausch) and Thomas Lamb. The artist, who was born without arms or legs, painted using her mouth and shoulder and became one of the most celebrated portrait miniaturists of her time.

The Lamb couple sat to Biffin in 1835 in Clifton, not far from the artist’s hometown in East Quantoxhead, Somerset. As was standard practice for miniature painters of the period, Biffin painted most of her commissions in front of her clients over several sittings. However, the rarity of this intact union between husband and wife is worthy of note; all too often portrait pairs that were once painted side-by-side are subsequently separated upon the death of their sitters.

Anna and Thomas married in Berhampore, West Bengal, India 1st July 1814. Thomas was likely posted to India with the East India Company, as part of the 101st Regiment of Foot (Royal Bengal Fusiliers) in...

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These fine portrait miniatures by Sarah Biffin depict a married couple, Anna Eliza Lamb (nee Rausch) and Thomas Lamb. The artist, who was born without arms or legs, painted using her mouth and shoulder and became one of the most celebrated portrait miniaturists of her time.

The Lamb couple sat to Biffin in 1835 in Clifton, not far from the artist’s hometown in East Quantoxhead, Somerset. As was standard practice for miniature painters of the period, Biffin painted most of her commissions in front of her clients over several sittings. However, the rarity of this intact union between husband and wife is worthy of note; all too often portrait pairs that were once painted side-by-side are subsequently separated upon the death of their sitters.

Anna and Thomas married in Berhampore, West Bengal, India 1st July 1814. Thomas was likely posted to India with the East India Company, as part of the 101st Regiment of Foot (Royal Bengal Fusiliers) in the early nineteenth century; the marriage certificate notes Lamb’s occupation as ‘H.C’s European Regiment.’[1]

By this date, Biffin had earned her title as miniature painter to Princess Augusta Sophia (the second daughter of King George III) – a position she held from 1830 until the Princess’s death in 1840. As a talented artist associated with royalty, Biffin would have been a desirable artist for wealthy clientele such as the Lambs. Having returned to England from India, the couple may have wanted to commemorate their new life as a married couple back at home in the form of two portrait miniatures. Biffin’s royal connections also offered her further access and insight into the working methods of other artists at court. For example, the present portraits are similar in style and quality to the works of Emma Eleanor Kendrick at this date, who was appointed miniature painter to the recently acceded King William IV around the same date that Biffin accepted her royal position [fig. 1]. The intricate treatment of the luxurious fabrics and the rich colour palettes which govern both artists’ work are prominent and is evidence of Biffin’s keen awareness of changing tastes throughout the first half of the nineteenth century.

Biffin continued to strengthen her association with the royal family and by the end of her career she could boast of patronage ‘by their late Majesties George the Third, George the Fourth, William the Fourth; by the Queen Dowager, by her present Majesty, by Prince Albert, and by a host of the nobility and other distinguished persons.’[2]

[1] British India Office Ecclesiastical Returns, British India Office Marriages.

[2] Richard Rathbone, ‘Miss Biffin’ and ‘Miss Biffin, Contributions to the Fund for the purchase of an ANNUITY for MISS SARAH BIFFIN’, 942 BIF/10, Liverpool Record Office, Liverpool.

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500 Years of British Art