Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Gentleman and a Lady 

Thomas Forster (c.1677-1712)

Portrait of a Gentleman and a Lady, Thomas Forster
18th Century
Ovals, 4 inches, (10cm) high
Sothebys, 10 March 1974
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Lady signed T.Forster 1699, Beton
Gent signed T.Forster 1700 Iden

Little is known about the artist Thomas Forster, who was working between 1690 and 1713. His accomplished and refined style attracted a great variety of patrons, from academics and men of the cloth to society heiresses.

The origin of the art of plumbago can be traced back to post-restoration England the when print makers returned from exile to resume their trade and started to discover an eager market for the originals on which their prints were based. As the art form became more established, artists like Forster found a speciality in producing plumbagos and in fact more or less avoided the print-making process all together. As seen earlier with the likes of Robert White (1645-1703), the plumbago artist understood the importance of line and contrast making the shift between mediums a natural one, and such artists often reproduced their plumbagos as prints as well as designing title pages and frontispiece pages for books.

In terms of technical skill is has been commented that Forster has never been surpassed. Although this unparalleled level of quality is apparent, his known subjects are rarely of great historical significance. Thieme Becker’s encyclopedic Allgemeines Kunstler-lexicon suggests that perhaps this lack of apparent ‘quality’ of sitter can be explained by Forster’s pitch to a level of society more dignified and generally private in character. This would of course be supported in the present portrait of the male clergyman whose more humble character is perhaps better suited to a finely drawn plumbago than a full-length swagger portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), although the fine draperies of the female sitter are more akin to his portrait of Lady Anne Churchill (dated 1700) [Victoria and Albert Museum, P.20-1910].

By studying Forster’s known works it is possible to glean that he was working for a period of time in Ireland most probably under the patronage of James Butler, 2ND Duke of Ormond (1665-1745), whose many friends and associates seem to have been drawn by the artist including a selection of works now at the Holburne Museum, Bath.
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