Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Lady holding a Portrait Miniature 

Francis Hayman (1708-76)

Portrait of a Lady holding a Portrait Miniature, Francis Hayman
Oil and Canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 ins., (76.1 x 63.5 cm.)
Private Collection, UK.
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This unusually emotive, and hitherto unknown portrait by Francis Hayman represents a significant re-addition to his body of work on the scale of life.

Although the charming subject, who is at present unidentified, is clearly a sitter of status as evidenced by her unusually elaborate brocaded gold attire, the image also serves as a poignant reminder of the historic function of the portrait miniature, which features prominently in the composition. The portable nature of the miniature, and indeed the cost of obtaining one, meant that often these little portraits were the only likeness one would own of an intimate – most usually a child, spouse or lover. In this portrait the sitter, who is at present unknown, gestures meaningfully towards a miniature portrait of a young boy who we can presume to be her son.

Francis Hayman was born in Exeter and by 1718 had moved to London where, at the age of just ten, he was apprenticed to the history and decorative painter Robert Browne (c.1672-1743). By the mid-1730s his reputation as a skilled history painter had grown and by 1741 he had carved a place amongst the artistic and cultural elite.

As well as orthodox portraiture, Hayman was an early proponent of the ‘conversation piece’ as a popular mode of portraiture in mid-seventeenth century England. These often modest scale canvases would often include multiple members of a family or social circle, and the delicate rendering of the head in the miniature she is holding would have been a comfortable inclusion for an artist who had mastered these two portrait genres. These so-called ‘conversion pieces’ evolved during the early Eighteenth Century and were, at first, intended for the middle classes, but then gradually adopted by members of the aristocracy and even the royal family who savoured their jovial character.

Hayman was also a meticulous draughtsman which is evident from the illustrations he produced for printed editions of Pope (pub. 1751), Milton (pub. 1760), Shakespeare (pub. 1743) and Cervante (pub. 1755). He shifted between genres with seeming ease and confidence, eventually turning his hand to portraiture. In a bid to capitalise upon the growing demand for formal likenesses, Hayman painted his many friends, along with other wealthier members of the burgeoning middle classes.

During the 1740s, Hayman taught at St Martin's Lane Academy. Here, he influenced a young and impressionable Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), whom he is said to have introduced to the more lascivious and debauched underbelly of London life. Nevertheless, in spite of his licentious tendencies and an allegedly frank demeanour, Hayman was invited to act as President to the Society of Artists from 1766 until 1768. Several years prior, he had curated an exhibition at the Society’s headquarters on the Strand, which promoted the work of living British artists, and included his own work David Garrick as Gloucester in Richard III. He exhibited at the Society in 1760–8 and the Academy in 1769–72, with paintings redolent of the Rococo style favoured by his French counterparts. Hayman is listed in the Founding Members of the Academy from 1768, and rather ironically, given his faintly wayward character and boisterous disposition, held the office of Academy Librarian from 1771 until his death. Hayman married the widow of his friend and patron Fleetwood, with whom he fathered one daughter.
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