Watercolor on ivory
Framed: 9 x 7.6 cm (3 9/16 x 3 in.); Sight: 7.6 x 6 cm (3 x 2 3/8 in.)
The Edward B. Greene Collection 1942.1144
Human hair was frequently incorporated into miniatures and was especially appropriate for mourning miniatures because it transformed the object into a kind of reliquary.
Lady Grace Anna Newenham (née Burton, 1725–1807) was the wife of Sir Edward Newenham (1734–1814), a prominent radical Protestant Irish politician and MP for Dublin, whom she married in 1754 at St. Thomas in Dublin. Lady Newenham herself came from a highly influential family with deep Whig political roots in Dublin. This miniature was painted in 1784, when she was nearly sixty years old and had been married for thirty years. This period found her husband, Edward, deeply in debt, going to great lengths to secure employment for his children, and planning a trip to America. While the former conditions would not encourage an artistic expenditure, the latter might have provided the impetus for this portrait to be commissioned.
Lady Newenham wears a gray wrap with a high white collar and a white low-neck dress. Her costume is summarily painted with quick strokes, and the ivory ground is allowed to show through particularly at her breast, enhancing the delicacy of her complexion. She is not, however, over-flattered as she would have been in the hands of a miniature painter like Richard Cosway (1742–1821). Instead, Horace Hone gently described her sagging jaw line as well as the wrinkles and moles on her face. She has the eyes of an older woman, beneath which Hone’s trademark glowing pink cheeks seem almost to suggest cosmetics. The texture of her lightly powdered brown hair that falls to her shoulders is delineated by Hone’s technique of scraping the surface of the watercolor paint with extremely fi ne lines that reflect light and suggest individual strands of hair. The background is a muddy gray sky with a hint of pale blue.
Among the eighteen children that Lady Newenham bore over the course of two decades, six died at a young age. Lady Newenham wears a miniature on her breast, possibly depicting one of the children she lost. The back of the miniature contains plaited hair under glass, bordered with an elaborate woven hair “belt,” a typically Irish form of hairwork.
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