Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait enamel of a Young Girl with her younger sibling, wearing white dresses, standing in front of a column, holding a basket of flowers, 1752 

Gervase Spencer (fl.1740-63)

Portrait enamel of a Young Girl with her younger sibling, wearing white dresses, standing in front of a column, holding a basket of flowers, 1752, Gervase Spencer
Zoom
Enamel
Oval, 2 1⁄16 in. (53 mm.) high
 
Provenance:
Private Collection, UK
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This engaging portrait of two young siblings dates to within the first ten years of Spencerís professional artistic career. Clearly possessed of a natural gift, but without the benefit of an artistic upbringing or background, Spencer nevertheless attained a reputation as one of only two ĎMiniature Painters of Eminence in Londoní in the mid-eighteenth century.

Little is known of Gervase Spencerís early life and it is believed that he began as a footman, amusing himself with drawing only as a hobby. As a self-professed amateur, it is all the more surprising that Spencer concentrated on the technically challenging art of enamel painting. Such was his success in this art form Ė as demonstrated by this double portrait Ė that Spencer took on the mantle of the eminent Christian Friedrich Zincke (c.1684-1767), who had ceased to paint from the mid- 1740s. Spencer soon established himself as one of the leading portrait miniaturists and enamellers in London.

There were no public exhibition spaces when Spencer set up his practice in London in the 1740s, and it was only when the Society of Artists first organised annual exhibitions from 1761, that Spencer was able to exhibit his enamels there for the last two years of his life. It is unclear whether Spencer taught others, but he is likely to have been involved in the training of Penelope Carwardine (1730-1801) and he had some association with the enameller Henry Spicer (1742/3-1804).
It appears that Spencer was well acquainted with the young Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), later first President of the Royal Academy, who depicted Spencer painting a miniature, probably during the late 1740s. This oil portrait of the artist at work remained in Spencerís collection until his death, and he etched the composition at least twice. Spencerís association with Reynolds perhaps demonstrates the level of support he received from those who were firmly part of the art establishment, and such relationships would have been essential in introducing him to patrons. The endorsement of Spencer as a professional artist by his contemporaries, such as fellow-miniaturist Samuel Finney (1719-98), is also perhaps testament to his tenacity in conquering the technical and artistic demands of enamelling and etching.
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