This portrait by the prolific late-eighteenth century artist George Engleheart portrays an unknown gentleman set against a sky background. During the 1780s, Engleheart used a clever visual ploy which rendered his portraits disarmingly lifelike. Setting his sitters against a pale sky background and turning their head away from the viewer gave the illusion of movement combined with a sense of solidity. The pose seen in the present work appears to have been extremely successful as Engleheart used it recurrently in his portraits of this period. His brilliance as a draughtsman is also evident here in the painstaking brushwork used to describe the textures of the sitter’s soft hair, crisp white shirt and bold brass buttons.

Engleheart ranks among Smart, Cosway, and Humphry as one of the most talented miniaturists active in Georgian England. He was the third surviving son of a German plaster-modeller, Francis Engleheart, born in Kew, London, in 1750, with an innate creative ambition inherited from his father....

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This portrait by the prolific late-eighteenth century artist George Engleheart portrays an unknown gentleman set against a sky background. During the 1780s, Engleheart used a clever visual ploy which rendered his portraits disarmingly lifelike. Setting his sitters against a pale sky background and turning their head away from the viewer gave the illusion of movement combined with a sense of solidity. The pose seen in the present work appears to have been extremely successful as Engleheart used it recurrently in his portraits of this period. His brilliance as a draughtsman is also evident here in the painstaking brushwork used to describe the textures of the sitter’s soft hair, crisp white shirt and bold brass buttons.

Engleheart ranks among Smart, Cosway, and Humphry as one of the most talented miniaturists active in Georgian England. He was the third surviving son of a German plaster-modeller, Francis Engleheart, born in Kew, London, in 1750, with an innate creative ambition inherited from his father. His artistic verve helped him to carve a successful and extraordinarily prolific career as an accomplished miniaturist. According to his fee-books, now in private hands, he produced some 4,853 portrait miniatures on ivory during his lifetime, many of which depicted notable members of London’s high society.

Engleheart began his professional training in 1769, when he was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in London, where he started as the first pupil of the Irish landscape artist George Barret (c.1730 - 1784). He shortly moved on to become an apprentice of sorts, working under the supervision of the celebrated portrait painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). He absorbed stylistic and technical influence from his master by meticulously copying his portraits in miniature. Indeed, as with the present portrait, his subsequent miniatures betray glimmers of those stylistic and compositional devices absorbed during his early years of imitation.

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500 Years of British Art