Completed Portraits: British 18th C 13 Who painted this watercolour miniature of Elizabeth Gunning (1733–1790)?

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.

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’
John Fanshawe (1773–1843)
John Gascoyne Fanshawe of Parsloes (1746–1803)
Hon. M. Fanshawe (after Reynolds?)
Henry Fanshawe (1774–1854)

Valence House Museum, Entry reviewed by Art UK

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Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The artist remains unknown. The title has been amended from ‘Elizabeth Gunning (1733–1790), Duchess of Hamilton, Brandon and Argyll’ to ‘Unknown Woman’ and the description now notes that she is loosely based on Thomas Gainsborough's ‘The Honourable Mrs Graham’ (National Galleries Scotland). The date has been changed from ‘after 1750’ to ‘late 19th/early 20th C’.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Osmund Bullock,

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

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 ( ). 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 ( ). 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 . 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 ( ), 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 ( ) 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.

Osmund Bullock,

Here is another, probably C20th miniature based on 'Mrs Graham': I would guess that it was - perhaps still is - one of a number of standard patterns used by workshops producing such things in quantity for the British and American markets; they are still to be found in cheaper antique shops in tourist towns whose stock is largely reproduction, though these days the artists are far eastern instead of south European. The quality of the discussion's version is somewhat higher, but I fear it is still part of the same tradition.

Marcie Doran,

An older discussion.

I found a quite similar portrait on ivory that is labelled as possibly Elizabeth Gunning and loosely attributed to Cosway on the website of the State Library of New South Wales. I have attached a composite.

“[Elizabeth Gunning, Duchess of Hamilton and of Argyle, ca. 1770 - watercolour on ivory miniature / [attributed to R. Cosway ?]”

Jacob Simon,

This discussion, "Who painted this watercolour miniature of Elizabeth Gunning (1733–1790)?", originated four years ago. Osmund's post (12/01/2019) on the first full day of the discussion really says it almost all. It does not portray Elizabeth Gunning but is loosely based on Gainsborough's Hon. Mrs Graham in the NGS, as Charles Noble recognised and the collection accepts (12/01/2019). It is the work of an unidentified later artist, possibly much later, as previous posts have recognised.

On that basis, in the absence of a group leader, I suggest that we close this discussion.

Jacob Simon,

This discussion really needs to be closed by Art UK.

Jacob Simon,

Another year has gone by. Again I recommend that this discussion be closed. Unknown woman by unknown artist, probably but not necessarily British, loosely based on Gainsborough's Hon. Mrs Graham in the NGS. Date late 19th or early 20th century as Osmund suggested in the very first post in this discussion.