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Set in the inside lid of an original silver box, the front cover set with shell panel
Although not signed this is unmistakably a powerful work by Bernard Lens, esteemed the best miniaturist from 1710 to 1740 and the first English artist to use ivory as a base upon which to paint miniatures. Besides being the limner for George I and George II, Lens also taught drawing at Christ’s Hospital. He had many aristocratic and royal pupils including Princess Mary and Horace Walpole amongst others.
The use of the blue background was a feature that Lens was fond of using, as seen in the signed oval portrait, of Mary Queen of Scots, in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The use of the blue emulates the work of Nicholas Hilliard’s blue backgrounds whilst the use of ivory is a very modern step forward. Under a glass it is possible to see Lens’ cautious stipple technique, to avoid the paint running on the ivory surface, particularly noticeable in the face where careful individual dots are painted onto the bare ivory. The rose bud treatment of the lips, seen in Queen Mary’s portrait are also evident in both of the sitter’s lips in the current miniature. Lens experimented with all shapes and sizes but of all his contemporaries he appears to have favoured the elongated oval (for the lids or covers of snuff boxes) more than any other miniaturist in England at that time.
The Lady in the portrait is clearly a Noble lady judging by the very fine attire and the grand setting in the background. One might speculate that it is in fact a portrait of his Lens's wife Katherine Woods (whom he married in 1706 ) and that she is holding an image of him. The grey hair and slightly chubby appearance of the Lady suggests a middle aged women, which Katherine would have been at the time of the sitting. It depicts a women who is older than that shown in the small miniature that Lens is seen holding in his self portrait, painted circa 1724, now in the Ashmolean Museum. In the self portrait Lens is not shown wearing a wig but the portrait of Bernard Lens by his son Peter Paul Lens, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, does show how Lens looked when wearing a wig. The Gentleman in the portrait miniature bears a resemblance to a posthumous portrait of Bernard Lens flanked by seated figures in Christ’s Hospital dress known from an engraving by L.P. Boitard which is Illustrated in Early Georgian Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, by John Kerslake. Pl. 464.
It may not be possible to prove with any certainty the identity of the sitter but the piece certainly encapsulates everything which is so romantic about portrait miniatures. The Gentleman in the small portrait gazes up at the Lady who in turn gazes out lovingly to whoever is the owner of the box. A sense of secret passion, love, tenderness and devotion are all evident in this powerful miniature. A real token of affection.
|Height||4.50 cm||(1.77 inches)|
|Width||2.00 cm||(0.79 inches)|
|Depth||8.00 cm||(3.15 inches)|