Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of Ralph Allen of Bathampton Manor, Somerset (1737-1777), 1770s 

Richard Crosse (1742-1810)

Portrait miniature of Ralph Allen of Bathampton Manor, Somerset (1737-1777), 1770s, Richard Crosse
Watercolour on ivory
Oval, 1 ½ ins., (3.8 cm.) high
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The sitter in this fine portrait is Ralph Allen (1737-1777), nephew of Ralph Allen (1693-1764) of Prior Park, who is best remembered for reforming the British postal service and for founding the General Hospital of Bath.

Although very little is known about Ralph Allen (1737-1777), often being overshadowed by his philanthropic uncle, we do know that he was the son of Philip Allen of Bathampton Manor, who was a Deputy Postmaster at Bath throughout his life, and Jane Benett of Maperton Village. Ralph Allen practised as a barrister, entering into the Middle Temple in London, although the exact date for this is unknown. On 14th January 1775 Ralph married Mary, the co-heiress of the Henry Palmer of Wanlip estate, and had together they had three daughters. Ralph is also believed to have been the Treasurer of the General Hospital of Bath, which was founded by his uncle, until his death in 1777 when Samuel Campbell took over the position. Judging by the apparent age of the sitter and the distinct level of characterisation within his features, this work was almost certainly painted in the mid-1770s, just prior to Ralph’s death in 1777. An entry in Crosse’s sales ledger from 15th January 1779 states: ‘Recd. Of Mr. Allen for his Do. - £8.8’, which, if we presume this to be the same Allen family, suggests that the next generation of Allens continued to commission works from Crosse.

Richard Crosse, who was born deaf, was the son of John and Mary Crosse and was born at Knowle near Cullompton in Devon. An early exponent of watercolour on ivory, Crosse rose to fame to become a highly regarded artist active during the golden age of miniature portrait painting.

He initially took up the skill of miniature painting as an amateur, it being a pastime favoured by wealthy gentry such as himself, but by 1758 Crosse had moved to London to accept a premium offered by the Society of Arts in pursuit of a career in the arts. In London, Crosse divided his time between William Shipley’s art school, The Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (founded in 1754), and the sculpture gallery owned by Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond at Richmond House, used by young artists as an aid for the study of anatomy. Crosse lived at a residency on Henrietta Street in Covent Garden and exhibited at the Society of Artists from 1760 until 1791, the Free Society of Artists from 1761 to 1766, and at the Royal Academy from 1770 until 1796.

Crosse produced the occasional oil painting but worked primarily in enamel, intermittently experimenting with watercolours. His honest, yet delicate use of colour was greatly admired by fellow artists and eminent patrons alike, including King George III who made him the official court ‘Painter in Enamel’ on the basis of this talent. Indeed, the quality of his work positions Crosse among Andrew Plimer, Ozias Humphry and Jeremiah Meyer.

Crosse’s proclivity is recorded in a transcript of his original ledger, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which contains a list of the miniatures he produced between 1775 and 1798, naming one hundred painted between 1777 and 1780 alone. Extant engravings after his miniatures further substantiate his popularity, but the ledger reveals that from 1790 to 1810 his output diminished annually. However in spite of his modest fees (around 8 guineas for small miniatures and 10 guineas for larger ones) Crosse enjoyed a very comfortable existence, living off the proceeds of his artistic success and wily financial investments.

Crosse’s personal life was rather less successful and after being rejected by his cousin, Sarah Cobley, with whom he had fallen in love, he retracted from general public life and was notably grief stricken after hearing of her betrothal to the artist Benjamin Haydon. Nonetheless he continued to work on his miniature commissions, only retiring from London in 1798 to live with his brother in Wells, Somerset.

Among his most striking miniatures are Major-General William Phillips [Philip Mould & Company] depicting the celebrated artilleryman who played an important role in the American War of Independence, and his official portrait of King George III, 1793 [Gilbert Collection], stands as another quality example of his work produced during his mature period.

Crosse died at his brother’s home in Knowle on 30 May 1810 at the age of sixty-eight leaving behind an impressive oeuvre.
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