Portraits: British 18th C 7 Who painted this watercolour miniature of Elizabeth Gunning (1733–1790)?

LNE_VAHM_LDVAL_2018_29_8
Topic: Artist

An inscription on the reverse suggests that this could be a copy after Rubens.

Art UK adds: Charles Noble, commenting on ‘Understanding British Portraits’ (15 August 2018), notes its relation to Thomas Gainsborough’s full-length portrait ‘The Honourable Mrs Graham (1757 –1792)’, at the Scottish National Gallery. https://bit.ly/2RDcssv

Valence House Museum would be grateful for any information about this and the other portrait miniatures of the Fanshawe family that have been donated to the museum.

Other Valence House portrait miniatures on Art UK:
Portrait of an Unknown Lady, signed ‘Cosway’ https://bit.ly/2QA6F2h
John Fanshawe (1773–1843) https://bit.ly/2AJ6RqG
John Gascoyne Fanshawe of Parsloes (1746–1803) https://bit.ly/2H73qzY
Hon. M. Fanshawe (after Reynolds?) https://bit.ly/2Fm6c2q
Henry Fanshawe (1774–1854) https://bit.ly/2D2Qw1V

Valence House Museum, Entry reviewed by Art UK

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7 comments

Osmund Bullock,

The links to most of the other miniatures on Art UK aren't yet working, but they can all be seen here: https://bit.ly/2RDcssv .

I'm afraid I feel sure this work is a late 19th or early 20th century pastiche of a late C18th miniature. At the time fine and genuine miniatures of the earlier period - especially pretty women with oversized doe eyes and rosebud lips - were much in vogue and making astonishing prices; as a result a flood of imitations appeared on the market - some good enough to deceive even an expert eye, but most (like this one) catering for buyers with scant knowledge but a desire to own what was fashionable.

It has no connection with Rubens; I suppose the inscriber saw a faint resemblance to some elements in his well-known portrait of Helena Fourment ( https://bit.ly/2AG6EVw ). In fact, as Charles Noble says, the design and costume are loosely based on Gainsborough's famous (and frequently-copied) c.1776 portrait of the Hon. Mrs Graham ( https://bit.ly/2JjkzT5 ). But inasmuch as this is meant to be anyone in particular, it is little like her and nothing like Elizabeth Gunning, who was a famous beauty of the previous generation (b.1733) - see https://bit.ly/2FrxzHy . I think it is just an image of a generic 'beauty', and I suspect a search for any Fanshawe connection to either woman will prove fruitless.

Another of those in the collection ( https://bit.ly/2D5kySA ), the one called 'The Hon M Fanshawe' (whom I cannot identify in the family of Fanshawe of Parsloes) also appears to be inspired by the format of 'Mrs Graham', but even more remotely. It looks to be by an amateur hand, possibly a family member, and I doubt very much that it is even after Reynolds. I'm attaching a composite of both miniatures with the portrait from which they seem to derive.

The other miniatures are authentic to their apparent period, and are professional works, but of variable quality - the best is that of Henry Fanshawe dated 1804, and already apparently accepted by the Collection as the work of Nicholas Freese; he's not an artist I am familiar with, so I cannot comment on that. The unidentified lady ( https://bit.ly/2RI9a7e ) is certainly *not* by Cosway, nor any other artist of substance - but it does have a naive charm that is appealing; it probably dates from the last decade of the C18th or beginning of the 19th.

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Valence House Museum,

Hello Osmund. Thank you for your comments, particularly regarding the desire to reproduce fashionable attractive women. I agree that this and the other, poorer, version are not of the Gunning sisters. The sitter will have to remain a mystery, however, the Fanshawe family do have a distant relationship with the Hon. Mrs Graham, so there is a link.

I apologise for the broken links, which were all fine when I tested them. Thank you, Osmund, for adding another to the full set of miniatures featured on 'Understanding British Portraits'.

Jacinto Regalado,

Osmund's comments sound entirely plausible, especially concerning the miniature in question. It seems rather more likely to be late Victorian or Edwardian than 18th century.

Martin Forrest,

It may have acquired the attribution of the sitter to Elizabeth Gunning along the way, but this is, as has been already stated, a fairly modern and, to be blunt, rather poor copy of a part of Gainsborough's Mrs Graham in the National Gallery of Scotland.

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