Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a Lady, wearing white dress, her hand resting on her face, her mob cap decorated with pink bows, c.1780 

Jeremiah Meyer RA (1735–1789)

Portrait miniature of a Lady, wearing white dress, her hand resting on her face, her mob cap decorated with pink bows, c.1780, Jeremiah Meyer RA
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 90 mm (3 ¾ inches) high
With K. Henniger-Tavcar, Pforzheim, Germany 1986 Private Collection
To view portrait miniatures currently for sale at Philip Mould & Co, please go to www.philipmould.com.

This exceptionally large miniature by Meyer indicates not only his skilful draughtsmanship but also his ambitions as an artist. Born in Germany, he moved to England at an early age and settled in London. His early training was with the enamellist Christian Friedrich Zincke, but his mature works, such as this, display little of the hard, stippled bright colours of enamel painting. Instead, Meyer was one of the first miniaturists to really exploit the medium of ivory, using transparent washes to allow the delicate tones of the ivory to show luminescent through the paint. He only used opaque colours for detail – the thicker white paint used here to describe the delicate lace of the sitter’s cap and dress is typical of his technique.

Meyer was the oldest of a group of artists, including Richard Cosway, John Smart and Richard Crosse, all born around the same date, who took lessons at William Shipley 's new drawing school, the first such school in London. After his expensive apprenticeship with Zincke, it seems that he also spent time at the informal St. Martin's Lane 'Academy' run by William Hogarth. As one of the founder members of the Royal Academy, which opened in 1769, Meyer was one of a new generation of miniaturists who would present their art form in direct competition with oil painters. Although there is no hard evidence that this miniature was exhibited at the R.A., the ability of Meyer to produce such a successful composition on such a large piece of ivory would have placed this piece in direct comparison with the prime oil portraitists of the day. In 1774, one critic noted ‘[His] miniatures excell all others in pleasing Expression, Variety of Tints and Freedom of Execution’. It is extremely unusual to see a hand in a portrait miniature – miniaturists were notoriously ill equipped to draw any part of the anatomy other than the head. The elegance and grace of the pose, whilst perhaps slightly elongated from nature to fall in with the fashion expressed in oil portraiture, reflects his lengthy and thorough formal training.

In 1764, Meyer was appointed miniature painter to Queen Charlotte and painter in enamel to King George III. This secured his place as primary miniaturist for the royal family and improved his ability to secure from this position he was much in demand. It has not been possible to identify the sitter with any certainty, although her pose mimics the portrait of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Meyer (now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, see fig.?). The lady may well have been a member of Georgiana’s circle, as she tended to instigate fashions in portrait miniatures for the aristocratic elite. This size in portrait miniatures is extremely rare at this date and suggests an expensive commission of importance.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.