Suffolk-born, Wood entered the Royal Academy schools to begin his formal training in 1785 at the age of sixteen. Little is known about his apprenticeship, but he was quickly established in the profession of miniature painting. It is possible that he is the ‘William Wood’ exhibiting at the Royal Academy as early as 1788 and was a regular exhibitor throughout his career. He strived to improve the status of portrait miniatures and watercolour portraits and to have such works recognised as ‘high art’. In 1807, for example, he was a founder member of the ‘New Society of Painters in Miniature and Watercolour’. This society was established to rival the watercolour exhibiting societies, which were dominated by landscape artists.

Wood also produced exquisite watercolour portraits on paper and larger genre pictures on square pieces of ivory.[1] The majority of his commissions, however, were the more typical ovals such as this piece, painted at the height of his career...

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Suffolk-born, Wood entered the Royal Academy schools to begin his formal training in 1785 at the age of sixteen. Little is known about his apprenticeship, but he was quickly established in the profession of miniature painting. It is possible that he is the ‘William Wood’ exhibiting at the Royal Academy as early as 1788 and was a regular exhibitor throughout his career. He strived to improve the status of portrait miniatures and watercolour portraits and to have such works recognised as ‘high art’. In 1807, for example, he was a founder member of the ‘New Society of Painters in Miniature and Watercolour’. This society was established to rival the watercolour exhibiting societies, which were dominated by landscape artists.

Wood also produced exquisite watercolour portraits on paper and larger genre pictures on square pieces of ivory.[1] The majority of his commissions, however, were the more typical ovals such as this piece, painted at the height of his career in the later 1790s/1800. During this time, he also experimented with improving the stability of watercolour on ivory. His coded notebooks are kept in the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and are part of an ongoing study into his work in the conservation department there.

The present miniature is an excellent example of such developments in his exploration of watercolour on ivory. The warm tones which shape the sitter’s complexion are indicative of Wood’s hand; the young lady’s cheeks here glow subtly with a youthful radiance. His short brushstrokes ignite an energy and dynamism within his sitters, evidenced here through the small dots of paint which distribute light and shadow throughout the contours of his sitter’s features. In a report written on this portrait by the conservator Alan Derbyshire, he states that Wood only used this size of ivory in the first half of the 1790s.

[1] An example can be found in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, entitled ‘An Interesting Story’ (Miss Ray), dated 1806 [95.14.95]. Rectangular ivories were being slowly introduced at this time as an alternative to the wearable ovals which has dominated the market for so long.

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500 Years of British Art