Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait enamel of a Gentleman, wearing a mauve velvet jacket with gold frogging, scarlet waistcoat with gold trim and white lace shirt, his hair bewigged and powdered 

William Prewett (fl.1735-55)

Portrait enamel of a Gentleman, wearing a mauve velvet jacket with gold frogging, scarlet waistcoat with gold trim and white lace shirt, his hair bewigged and powdered, William Prewett
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Enamel on metal
18th Century
Oval 44mm, (1 3/4 in.) high
 
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This signed enamel miniature is by William Prewett, one of the earliest English-born portrait enamellists working in London in the eighteenth century. Although the identity of this young gentleman is unknown, the composition successfully demonstrates Prewett’s remarkable ability to include subtle chiaroscuro, enhancing the perspective of his sitter and his surroundings. Prewett’s use of colour made full use of the vibrant enamel in which he was working, the colours remaining unfaded to this day.

William Prewett (or Prewitt) was born in Suffolk and trained in the studio of the German enamellist Christian Friedrich Zincke. His work is rare but shows a wide group of patrons, including King George II and Frederick, Prince of Wales [Royal Collection], and Horace Walpole as a young man [Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry]. The Victoria and Albert Museum houses an interesting family group by Prewett depicting Mr. and Mrs. Knight with her son, Mr. Newsham. This group further establishes Prewett’s connection to Zincke, who also worked for the family.

Unlike the work of many portraitists working in enamel at this period, who tended to prettify and at times idealise their subject’s features, Prewett appears to have adopted a more honest, straight-forward approach. One cannot help but draw parallels between his work and that of William Hogarth, one of the greatest character painters of the eighteenth century. In the present portrait one sees slightly disheveled eyebrows and two small moles under the gentleman’s left eye, his waistcoat has been left slightly open to reveal his detailed lace cravat, this gives his formal dress an air of familiarity.
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