Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a Lady wearing pale pink dress and black lace shawl, feathers in her powdered hair 

Samuel Cotes 

Portrait miniature of a Lady wearing pale pink dress and black lace shawl, feathers in her powdered hair, Samuel Cotes
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Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 89mm (3 1/5 in.) high
 
Gilt-metal frame with blue glass reverse.

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Samuel Cotes was born in London and was taught how to paint by his older brother Francis, who would later become one of the leading portrait painters in oils.

Cotes exhibited miniatures in both ivory and enamel at the Society of Artists from 1760 and at the Royal Academy from 1769, when he exhibited his ambitious large work of the actress Mrs. Yates in the role of Electra [Victoria and Albert Museum, London]. By exhibiting the large miniature in the same room as works by leading artists like Sir Joshua Reynolds, Cotes was attempting to assert the significance of miniatures as a serious art form, and not one that should remain relegated corner of the room. This preoccupation with making miniatures more visually accessible evidently remained with Cotes throughout his career, and in the 1770s/80s Cotes was working on an ever-increasing scale, the present work being a fine example of this.

This work demonstrates Cotes’ preference for portraying his sitters with an assertive gaze and the head in a slightly downcast position, as if caught mid-movement. The rich black colouring which we see most clearly in the ostrich feathers worn in the hair, is an effect achieved by Cotes through the addition of extra gum into his watercolour, developing a greater saturation of colour.
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