William Wood can be considered one of the most accomplished miniaturists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His portrait miniatures can be compared to the ‘greats’ of the age, including works by John Smart, Richard Cosway and George Engleheart, whilst always maintaining a unique and distinctive style.

The present work is indicative of his idiosyncratic compositions – in an age before photography was invented, Wood presents his sitters as animated beings – the glance to the side here, with the sky background behind, gives the illusion of the sitter moving through his space. The indirect gaze of the sitter is extremely rare in portrait miniatures, but was a ploy often used by oil painters to instill the feeling of a moment captured, and frozen, in time. In contrast to the delicate hand of John Smart, Wood’s style was broader and more confident, bestowing on his sitters a greater sense of movement, a quality not all dissimilar...

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William Wood can be considered one of the most accomplished miniaturists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His portrait miniatures can be compared to the ‘greats’ of the age, including works by John Smart, Richard Cosway and George Engleheart, whilst always maintaining a unique and distinctive style.

The present work is indicative of his idiosyncratic compositions – in an age before photography was invented, Wood presents his sitters as animated beings – the glance to the side here, with the sky background behind, gives the illusion of the sitter moving through his space. The indirect gaze of the sitter is extremely rare in portrait miniatures, but was a ploy often used by oil painters to instill the feeling of a moment captured, and frozen, in time. In contrast to the delicate hand of John Smart, Wood’s style was broader and more confident, bestowing on his sitters a greater sense of movement, a quality not all dissimilar to the Regency portraitist Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1835).

Wood entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1785 and is known to have been working from Bristol in 1791 and 1803 and from Gloucester in 1798. Wood became an active member of the Associated Artists in Watercolour and held the position of president between 1808 and 1809, exhibiting frequently with the group. His interests in the arts lay not just in miniature painting, and in 1808 he published An Essay on National and Sepuchral Monuments as well as reputedly displaying a keen interest in landscape gardening. As well as portraits, Wood also painted subject and eye miniatures, larger watercolours and drawings. An acute technician, as well as a clever draughtsman, Wood experimented and managed to stabilise his colours on ivory, thus preserving the subtlest of chiaroscuro.

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500 Years of British Art