Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a young Lady, wearing white dress, her hair in white bandeau 

William Wood (1769-1810)

Portrait miniature of a young Lady, wearing white dress, her hair in white bandeau, William Wood
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 2 ¾ in (70mm) high
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William Wood was one of the most inventive miniaturists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. His portrait miniatures can be compared alongside the ‘greats’ of the age, including works by John Smart, Richard Cosway and George Engleheart. As can be seen in this portrait, his sitters were portrayed with much movement, often with his distinctive palette of blues, whites and purples.

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 years 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. He also produced exquisite watercolour portraits on paper and larger genre pictures on square pieces of ivory. The majority of his commissions, however, were the more typical ovals such as this piece, painted at the height of his career in the 1790s. 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.
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