At 165mm (6.5inches) high, this dynamic portrait of an unknown woman must be one of the largest works painted by Richard Crosse. During the 1780s, Crosse painted a handful of larger ‘cabinet’ miniatures, showcasing his impressive talents as a watercolourist. Although the sitter here is unknown, Crosse usually reserved such a striking format for his more famous sitters – including the notorious actresses Mrs. Siddons and Mrs. Billington; and for his own self-portrait.[1] Unlike these celebrities, the person portrayed in this miniature remains unknown but would have paid the relatively high price of around £25 (approximately £6000 today) for her portrait.

The large scale of the present work is perhaps in contrast to the quiet personal life led by the artist Richard Crosse. Born deaf, like one of his sisters, he never spoke. Given that witty repartee was part of the experience of visiting a portrait painter, Crosse’s talent clearly overrode that requirement. Crosse was not only gifted but also...

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At 165mm (6.5inches) high, this dynamic portrait of an unknown woman must be one of the largest works painted by Richard Crosse. During the 1780s, Crosse painted a handful of larger ‘cabinet’ miniatures, showcasing his impressive talents as a watercolourist. Although the sitter here is unknown, Crosse usually reserved such a striking format for his more famous sitters – including the notorious actresses Mrs. Siddons and Mrs. Billington; and for his own self-portrait.[1] Unlike these celebrities, the person portrayed in this miniature remains unknown but would have paid the relatively high price of around £25 (approximately £6000 today) for her portrait.

The large scale of the present work is perhaps in contrast to the quiet personal life led by the artist Richard Crosse. Born deaf, like one of his sisters, he never spoke. Given that witty repartee was part of the experience of visiting a portrait painter, Crosse’s talent clearly overrode that requirement. Crosse was not only gifted but also prolific, his careful ledgers (preserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum) provide a rare insight into the studio of a highly successful miniaturist. Between 1777 and 1780 alone, he was commissioned for over one hundred miniatures. At the age of eighteen, he began to exhibit at the Society of Artists (continuing to display his works here until 1791), also exhibiting at the Free Society of Artists from 1761-66 and at the Royal Academy from 1770-96.

Breaking away from the conventional jewellery proportions for portrait miniatures, Crosse also experimented successfully in the mediums of enamel and oil. His professional success was cemented by his images of high-profile sitters, which included members of the royal family; indeed, several likenesses by Crosse survive in the Royal Collection today.

Crosse’s professional success was not, however, matched by his personal life. He never married and was reportedly heartbroken after his great love, his cousin Sarah Cobley, rejected him in favour of fellow artist Benjamin Haydon. Following his retirement in 1798, Crosse moved to Wells in Somerset, where he lived the last twelve years of his life with his brother until his death in 1810.

[1] The portraits of Mrs Siddons and Crosse’s own self-portrait are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the portrait of the actress Mrs Billington is in the collection at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

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500 Years of British Art