Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of Miss Barbara Evelyn Isabella Gunning, c.1800 

Richard Cosway RA (1742-1821)

Portrait miniature of Miss Barbara Evelyn Isabella Gunning, c.1800, Richard Cosway
Watercolour on ivory
Oval, 69mm (2 ¾ inches) high
The sitter; Her son Charles Ross and his wife Lady Mary Ross (née Cornwallis); By family descent.
G.C. Williamson Richard Cosway, R.A. and his Wife and Pupils (London), 1897, p.118; ‘Catalogue of the British section’, Paris Universal Exhibition (London, 1868), no. 532.
Special Exhibition of Portrait Miniatures on Loan at the South Kensington Museum, London, 1865, no. 548 (lent by Lady Mary Ross); Paris Universal Exhibition of 1867, no. 532 (lent by Lady Mary Ross); ‘Exhibition of works by The Old Masters and by Deceased Masters of the British School’, Royal Academy of Arts, London 1879, no. 25.
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This portrait miniature was not only produced by one of the most successful artists in Regency England, Richard Cosway, but also demonstrates an outstanding provenance that can be traced back to the sitter.

Barbara Gunning was the daughter of Sir Robert Gunning of Horton, Northampton and Anne Sutton. Robert Gunning was a British diplomat who had resided at both the courts of Berlin and St Petersburg as minister plenipotentiary before being created a baronet in 1778. Both of his daughters, Barbara Evelyn Isabella and Charlotte Margaret were painted by George Romney, the fashionable society portraitist, between 1780 and 1784.

Gunning married Major-General Alexander Ross (1742-1827) three months after this miniature was painted and their union joined not only their own families but commenced a close, and later familial, relationship with the Cornwallises. Ross had served with distinction in the American War of Independence as an aide-de-camp to Marquess Cornwallis and quickly became his good friend. Cornwallis wrote a touching letter to Ross three days after his marriage in 1795;

‘I should wish you and Mrs. Ross joy, and I do most truly assure you that no person can more sincerely wish you both a long enjoyment of health and happiness than myself…tell Mrs. Ross, that although I have had the pleasure of seeing her but once, I trust that we shall henceforward be considered as intimate friends.’

The Rosses had a son, Charles Ross (1799-1860) who became a politician. In 1825, two years before his father’s death, Charles married the grand-daughter of his father’s intimate friend, Lady Mary Cornwallis (1804-1872).

Until now, this portrait miniature has been in the possession of the Whatman family, descendants of James Whatman (1702-1759), the paper manufacturer. Charles and Lady Mary Ross had several children including Louisa Isabella Ross, born in 1826. Louisa married James Whatman of Vintners near Maidstone (1813-1887) in 1850, an English Liberal Politician and great-grandson of the paper-manufacturer. The couple lived with Lady Ross at Vinters, who is known to have been in possession of the present portrait when it was exhibited at South Kensington Museum in 1865.
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