Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Lady, wearing loose-fitting robes 

Thomas Forster (c.1677-1712)

Portrait of a Lady, wearing loose-fitting robes, Thomas Forster
Graphite on vellum
17th Century
4 x 2 ¾ inches, 10 x 6.8 cm.
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Small portrait drawings of the type seen here were commonly called ‘plumbagos’, after the belief that that the graphite used to draw them was a form of lead. Plumbagos were introduced into England by French and English artists returning home after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. The taste for portrait drawings as a unique finished work was more highly valued on the Continent, whereas in England such life drawings as there were had tended to be done as preparatory works for larger oil paintings.

Thomas Forster was perhaps the leading English exponent of ‘plumbagos’ during their short period in fashion, principally because, as can be seen in this example, he was one of the finest draughtsman of his generation. His small ad vivum drawings were highly popular amongst all levels of society, and were clearly intended to be private, discreet images, and in their monotone. This drawing, like most of Forster’s work, can be dated to the late 1690s and early 1700s.
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