Historical Portraits Picture Archive

William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1520-1598), after Marcus Gheeraerts (1561/2-1636) 

Henry Bone RA (1755-1834)

William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1520-1598), after Marcus Gheeraerts (1561/2-1636), Henry Bone RA
Enamel on metal
19th Century
Rectangular, 8 1/4 x 6 3/4in (21 x 17cm)
Royal Academy, London, 1812, no.405; ‘Portraits of Illustrious Characters in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth’ the artist’s studio, Berners Street, London, 1822, no.6; Probably British Institution, London, 1835, no.33
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The present enamel is one of the most important works by Henry Bone to have come onto the market in recent years and is a pertinent reminder of the immense skill and ambition of the artist.

Born was born in Truro, Cornwall and in 1770 went to Plymouth where he was apprenticed to the Cookworthy factory where he painted China before completing his apprenticeship in Bristol under Richard Champion. When the factory went bankrupt in 1779 Bone moved to London and began exhibiting portrait miniatures at the Royal Academy from 1781, at first using watercolour on ivory and later moving towards the technique of enamelling.

As an enamellist Bone was unrivalled and the majority of his output consists of copies taken from original portraits by his contemporaries as well as old masters. Although in modern day the concept of copying another artist’s work can seen in a more negative light, during the eighteenth century this couldn’t have been more opposite; the combination of Bone’s mastery of the notoriously difficult medium of enamel and the eager consumption for copies ‘in little’ as epitomized by the likes of Ozias Humphrey, helped sculpt a highly successful career.

The technique of enamelling is largely understated in present day but it was a process which was extremely time consuming, temperamental and precise, some works taking as long as three years to complete. Initially Bone would make a sketch of the work to the size he wanted to produce in enamel, frequently relying on a series of grids to ensure accuracy, and then he would transfer the outline onto a prepared piece of enamel and fire it so it fixed to the surface. After each stage of colouring the enamel would be fired according to the colour’s required temperature and sometimes, seen in the more complex pieces such as the present work, over ten firings was not uncommon. The process was by nature very risky and Benjamin Haydon noted in his diary on Bone’s nervous twitch; ‘as if he was always watching a bit of ivory in the furnace for fear it should crack!’

Remarkably, the original drawing for the present work has survived and can be found in the National Portrait Gallery, London [D17108] after being acquired towards the end of the nineteenth century as part of three albums of the artist’s drawings. The drawing is dated ‘Dec 1811’ and given the date of the present work as ‘April 1812’ it becomes clear that it was undertaken with the Royal Academy Exhibition in mind, and was indeed exhibited there in 1812.

The present example belongs to a series of large portrait enamels by Bone of prominent Elizabethan courtesans which he steadily worked on throughout his career, the first, a portrait of the Historian William Camden, was drawn in 1807. Bone’s intention was to sell the entire collection to the nation, although the deal was never made and they were sold in an auction after his death in 1836. The series had obviously received great praise throughout his life though, for in 1822 after exhibiting thirty-five portraits in his studio, he decided to expand the series, totalling some eighty-five works at his death. J. Jope Rogers in his ‘Notice of Henry Bone and His Works’ concludes this theory when he states “These portraits were executed with wonderful precision and beauty, and are perhaps the works upon which his fame will chiefly rest”.

The catalogue from the 1822 exhibition is fascinating for a number of reasons; firstly it reveals the entrepreneurial side of Bone and his discipline in producing such a large volume of work without the promise of immediate financial gain, indeed the first was completed some fifteen years earlier in 1807. Secondly, it sheds light on the order in which his portraits of eminent Tudor’s were produced, thus we now know that the present work was the sixth portrait in the series to be completed.
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