Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a Gentleman, wearing dark blue with brass buttons, white shirt and stock 

Andrew Robertson (1777-1845)

Portrait miniature of a Gentleman, wearing dark blue with brass buttons, white shirt and stock, Andrew Robertson
Watercolour on ivory
Oval, 2½ in. (64 mm)
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Andrew Robertson was the pivotal artist in the shift in portrait miniatures from the flattering ‘baubles’ of the eighteenth century towards a style which emulated grand oil portraits. Born in Aberdeen, the son of an architect, Robertson’s first calling was for the medical profession. Despite obtaining his M.A. in 1794, he had effectively given up on this profession two years earlier, taking drawing lessons from Alexander Nasmyth and copying the paintings of Henry Raeburn. He took decisive action in 1801, leaving for London and joining the Royal Academy schools there.

His letters, which were preserved by his daughter, detail his struggles as an artist, which eventually led to not only a new style of miniature painting but also a different attitude towards miniaturists. Dismissing the previous generation of miniaturists as painting ‘toys’ their colouring ‘too much like china’ , Robertson resolved to develop a ‘great style’ of miniature painting.

Robertson found he had many supporters for his new style of portrait miniature, including the appreciation of Benjamin West, President of the Royal Academy. He worked hard to emulate the effects of oil paint by using varnished watercolour (and was utterly delighted when Cosway mistook one of his miniatures for a small oil ).

This portrait of a handsome, unknown gentleman probably dates from his first years in London, where he is still employing the oval format of the eighteenth century. This was a format that Robertson returned to later in his career, eventually finding that spending, as he once admitted, up to 35 hours on a rectangular miniature, was simply not economically viable. This accomplished portrait of a gentleman has all the hallmarks and intentions of the artist, particularly his desire to convey an accurate likeness in the frank and honest manner of his friend and mentor Henry Raeburn.
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