Watercolor on ivory in a gold frame with blue and white enamel
Framed: 5.9 x 5 cm (2 5/16 x 1 15/16 in.); Unframed: 5 x 4 cm (1 15/16 x 1 9/16 in.)
The Edward B. Greene Collection 1942.1137
In 1795 the English government began to tax hair powder, resulting in the rapid abandonment of both wigs and powdered hair.
Painted during the early part of Richard Cosway’s mature career, this portrait of an unknown man exhibits the artist’s characteristic proportionality, with head enlarged in relation to the shoulders and eyes enlarged in relation to the rest of the face. The effect is to draw the viewer’s attention to the sitter’s eyes, which heightens the already intimate experience of looking at a miniature.
This young sitter wears a high collar popular in the late 1780s and has powdered his hair, worn en queue rather than wearing a wig, which by 1790 was used primarily by older, conservative men.
Measuring under 2 inches high, this miniature is modest in size for Cosway during this period, when the format of his miniatures expanded to 3 inches. Factors such as size, elaborateness of costume, and how much of the body was depicted all determined how much an artist would charge for a miniature. Smaller miniatures were obviously more portable and adaptable to being worn as jewelry.
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