Watercolor on ivory heightened with gum arabic
Framed: 23.4 x 20.7 cm (9 3/16 x 8 1/8 in.); Unframed: 11.3 x 8.5 cm (4 7/16 x 3 3/8 in.)
Dudley P. Allen Fund 2010.461
Lady Ellenborough was described as “so exceedingly lovely, that passengers would linger to watch her watering the flowers—such was the fashion of the day—on the balcony of their house in Bloomsbury Square.”
John Linnell was born and lived much of his young adulthood in Bloomsbury, where his father, James, made picture
frames and restored paintings. As a boy the artist trained briefly with Benjamin West (1738–1820) and John Varley (1778–1842) before becoming a student at the Royal Academy from 1805 to 1812. Though primarily known for his landscapes, Linnell was also a prolific portraitist and executed miniatures during the first two decades of his career, learning the medium from his neighbor James Holmes (1770–1860). According to an early biographer, Linnell began painting miniatures around 1818 with a portrait of his wife. By 1823 he had executed a number of miniature commissions from aristocratic patrons, including Princess Sophia, facilitated by the praise of the society maven Lady Stafford. He painted his last known miniature on ivory in 1832. During the approximately fifteen years that the artist painted miniatures, he consistently charged between 10 and 50 guineas for a portrait. These fees corresponded less to the size of the ivory than to the degree of finish and elaboration of the composition.
In this portrait Anne Law (née Towry), 1st Lady Ellenborough (c. 1769–1843), is depicted half length. She wears a high-waisted white dress of translucent fabric through which a hint of blue appears and around which she wears a black belt. A devant de corsage (stomacher, or bodice brooch) is worn at her décolletage, extending to the belt. Its gold framework contains at least twelve semiprecious stones colored blue, red, aquamarine, pink, and brown. A gold brooch with a large blue stone is pinned to the cloak at her right shoulder. She also wears a twisted multistrand pearl necklace, matching pearl pendant earrings, and two gold rings on her left ring finger. A dark gray-green shawl with red reverse, gold border, and red fringe is draped over her shoulders and arms. She holds a closed fan in her left hand and stands against a brown background featuring a green and auburn striped curtain in the upper left corner. The sitter’s fair hair is dressed in ringlets that fall at her neck. The miniature is housed in a standing gilt metal and red velvet frame that dates from the same period.
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