Portrait miniatures: artist biographies A-E
AIsabella Beetham, born Robinson about 1753-1825
Isabella Robinson was born between 1752 and 1754, probably in the North Country. Her family were Catholic with Jacobite sympathies; some of their names are listed in 'The names of Catholics… who refus'd to take the Oaths of allegiance to his Late Majesty King George', (London, 1745). Little is known of her life until her marriage to Edward Betham around 1772/3. Apparently to spare his parents' embarrassment at his marriage to the daughter of a Jacobite Catholic he changed the spelling of his name to 'Beetham'. Edward Beetham was initially involved in the theatre and the couple were based in London. Mrs Beetham (as she was known) probably started cutting profiles in the late 1770s. Later she apparently had painting lessons with the miniature painter John Smart, presumably enabling her then to paint profiles.
Around 1785 her husband visited Murano outside Venice in order to learn the art of decorating glass in the 'verre églomisé' style. His plan was to use it to frame her painted profiles. From about this time they moved to premises in Fleet Street, a neighbourhood of booksellers, publishers and engravers. Here Mrs Beetham had her studio, and was busy enough during the late 1780s to employ assistants. During the early 1790s she was helped by her daughter Jane, one of her six children. Her husband had also been involved in businesses such as washing machines and insurance and after she was widowed in 1809, she inherited money from the latter of these ventures. She seems not to have painted profiles after this date.
Simon Bening 1483-1561
Simon Bening was Flemish, born about 1483, almost certainly in Ghent in modern day Belgium. He was the son of Sanders Bening who was a successful artist although no documented works by him are known today. His mother was Catherine de Goes, probably the sister or niece of the painter Hugo van der Goes. Simon Bening's father lived and worked in Ghent, a centre of book illumination, and was a member of the Ghent Guild of St Luke and St John. Later he also joined the Bruges Guild of St John and St Luke (a guild particularly associated with those involved in the production of books) although he did not have a workshop in Bruges. Simon Bening followed his father's trade as an artist. In 1500 he himself registered his illuminator's mark at the Bruges Guild of St John and Luke. This indicates that he was working for the book trade there, and was already finding patronage beyond his hometown of Ghent.
His earliest dated work however is from over a decade later. From 1517 he had effectively set up in business in Bruges, paying an annual membership fee to the Bruges guild, and in 1519 he became a citizen of Bruges, settling there permanently. Bening made his reputation as an illuminator of books, running a thriving workshop and receiving commissions from leading patrons throughout Europe. The reputation of this Flemish illuminator was such that he even won praise from Georgio Vasari in his 'The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects', first published in 1550, and extended in 1568. By his first wife, Katherine Scroo, Bening had five daughters. One daughter, Levina Teerlinc worked in England for the courts of Henry VIII and his three children.
John Bogle, about 1746-1803
Bogle was born about 1746, the son of an excise officer also called John. Bogle attended classes at the drawing school in Glasgow formed in 1753 by the brothers Robert and Andrew Foulis who were both printers and booksellers. Students at this school learned about art and design by drawing copies of paintings, engravings and illustrations from drawing manuals. It is not known however from whom or when Bogle learned miniature painting. Bogle married in 1769, and the same year and the following year, 1770, he exhibited miniatures at the Society of Artists in London from an address in Edinburgh. After this time he moved to London and exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1772 until 1794, including a self-portrait in 1772. He clearly moved in interesting circles in London; in 1790 he accompanied Fanny Burney, the famous novelist and diarist, to the celebrated trial of Warren Hastings in the Great Hall of Westminster. But almost no detail of his life is known today. He moved back to Scotland in 1800 with his wife and died in Edinburgh in 1803.
Charles Boit 1662-1727
Charles Boit was born in Stockholm, the son of a French salt manufacturer and silk merchant and his French wife. Boit was apprenticed to a goldsmith in Stockhom from 1677 to 1682, but it is not clear who taught him to paint enamel portraits. He travelled to England in 1687 and by 1690 was established in London with an appointment as Court enameller to William III. Although he also worked in Holland, Dusseldorf and Vienna, his main base was London until 1714, when he moved to France. For ten years he had worked on an ambitious large enamel, an allegorical work celebrating the British victory at the Battle of Blenheim, 1704. That it took so long is not perhaps so surprising.
Enamel painting is a demanding technique, both fraught with danger and labour-intensive. The first colours to be laid on the metal support have to be those needing the highest temperature when firing. More colour is then added and the enamel re-fired, the process ending with the colours needing the lowest temperature. The technical difficulties of painting such a large enamel defeated Boit. The Treasury paid him a thousand pounds in advance, but even with the help of many assistants the project was never finished. With the death of the last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne, in 1714 and the accession of the Hanoverian George I, the Treasury lost patience and demanded repayment, and Boit fled England in debt. He went on to work for the French Court and for Peter the Great of Russia. He died in Paris leaving three children from his second marriage.
Rosalba Giovanna Carriera 1675-1757
Rosalba Carriera was born in Venice, the daughter of a local official and an embroiderer. She was a miniature painter and an internationally renowned pastellist. It is generally agreed that it was Carriera who developed the use of ivory as a support for miniature painting, in place of the traditional vellum. She is said by one of her patrons, the collector Marriette, to have first painted snuff-boxes; an essentially crude art which used watercolour on ivory but which bore little resemblance to miniature painting. She called her little watercolour pictures on ivory 'fondelli' (literally Italian for 'foundation') and painted them with the same soft powdery sophistication of her pastels. In 1705 her diploma piece, to secure her place as an Academician of the Academy of St Luke in Rome, was a self-portrait as 'Innocence'.
The minutes for the Academy noted that it was painted 'on an oval sheet of ivory rather less than a hand's breadth in size, glazed and fitted in a tin box… it was immediately accepted with loud acclaim, and she judged worthy to be an Academician'. Two years later Bernard Lens painted the first miniature on ivory in Britain. Carriera never visited Britain but her pastels were hugely popular with British Grand Tourists who travelled extensively on the continent. She did however make commercially successful visits to Paris and Vienna and received important commissions from around Europe. She was later to undergo an eye operation, but apparently this did not affect her work. She died in her home city of Venice in 1757.
Penelope Carwardine, about 1730-1801
Penelope Carwardine was the daughter of John Carwardine, a gentleman, and Anne Bullock, both of Herefordshire. John Carwardine ruined the family's estate of Thinghalls Court leaving his wife and daughters to earn their living. Miniature painting was an established genteel pastime, and offered women the chance to earn a respectable living - Penelope Carwardine probably first learnt the art from a drawing master. Nonetheless there were issues of respectability for a young woman who became a professional portrait painter. The studio was an intimate setting and women were vulnerable to accusations of impropriety. Interestingly there is confusion about whether Penelope's mother, Mrs Anne Carwardine, also worked as miniature painters. A 'Mrs Carwardine' and a 'Mrs Cawardine' exhibited at one of the London exhibiting societies in 1761 and 1762.
Similarly 'Mortimer's Universal Director' (1763), an early trade directory advertising the services of artists and other trades, included a 'Mrs Carwardine'. But unmarried ladies who worked often assumed the title 'Mrs' to give them respectability - two other women miniaturists, also unmarried, were noted in the 'Director' as 'Mrs'. Additionally in March 1763 the diarist, James Boswell, noted that Alexander 10th Earl of Eglinton was sitting for his miniature to 'Mrs Carwardine', who he described as 'a very good-looking, agreeable woman, unmarried but I imagine virtuous'. It is possible that 'Mrs Carwardine' was in fact 'Miss Carwardine'. Penelope Carwardine moved in artistic circles and was a friend of Joshua Reynolds, the society portrait painter and first president of the Royal Academy, and his sister Frances. Carwardine married around 1772, a Mr Butler who was organist at Ranelagh, and like a number of women artists she stopped painting after her marriage. She never had any children and died in 1800.
Alfred Chalon RA 1780-1860
Chalon was born in Geneva, Switzerland, the son of a watchmaker. Between 1789 and 1794 Chalon's father left Geneva with his family as a result of troubles arising from the French Revolution, and eventually settled in London. Chalon and his brother were intended for a career in trade, but instead both became students at the Royal Academy schools, Alfred in 1797. Chalon exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1801 (not 1810 as has been suggested) until 1860. He was elected an Associate in 1812, and was made a full Academician in 1816. Chalon painted miniatures on ivory. He also painted small portraits in watercolour on paper, often about 15 inches high.
He was a witty caricaturist, and also painted genre and history subjects. In 1808 he briefly exhibited with the 'Associated Artists in Water-Colours'. In 1808 he also set up a private 'Society for the Study of Epic and Pastoral Design', which held weekly evening meetings to sketch with like-minded artists - this survived until 1851. His elegant miniatures and watercolour portraits were hugely fashionable. He was especially popular in court circles and was appointed painter in watercolour to Queen Victoria. He famously said when asked by the Queen whether he was worried by competition from the new invention of photography, 'Ah non, Madame, photography can't flatter!'. Alfred and his brother John lived together and had a close brotherly relationship. Alfred died in 1860 and was buried in Highgate cemetery in the same grave as his brother.
George Chinnery 1761-1835
Chinnery was born in London, the son of a writing master and amateur painter. Chinnery was enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools in 1792, but he had exhibited his first miniature at the Royal Academy exhibition the year before. In 1796 Chinnery moved to Dublin and in 1799 married his landlord's daughter, Marianne Vigne. He was also secretary of the newly founded Society of Artists in Ireland, and began to paint landscapes as well as large portraits in oil. In 1802 he travelled to India via England having obtained permission from the East India Company to work there as a painter. He first joined his civil servant brother in Madras, but worked in Calcutta and later Dacca, painting portraits and topographical scenes.
He was also an expert draughtsman, and he made endless pen and ink sketches annotated with the Gurney shorthand system as aides-mémoire for when he painted his finished works. He had two illegitimate sons with an Indian woman in 1812-3, but between 1817 and 1822 he was joined in Calcutta by his daughter, then his wife, and finally their son. He seems to have offered instruction to a number of amateurs, and his letters to Mrs Maria Browne offer an insight into his ideas about the theory and practice of painting (British Library). Increasingly however, Chinnery was falling into debt and eventually in 1825 he abandoned India and his wife to escape his creditors and sailed for China. He lived and worked in the Portuguese enclave of Macau for the rest of his life, painting portraits and landscapes, and dying there in 1852.
Richard Collins 1755-1831
Collins was born in Gosport, Hampshire. He travelled to London in 1776 and entered the Royal Academy schools the same year; at this time R.A. students learned only drawing, not painting. Between 1777 and 1778 he learned the arts of both miniature painting in watercolour on ivory and of enamelling from Jeremiah Meyer. He exhibited miniatures at the Royal Academy between 1777 and 1818 and became principal portrait painter in enamel to George III from 1789 after the death of Jeremiah Meyer. In 1780 he had shared lodgings with Ozias Humphry and they became friends.
Humphry recorded in a manuscript memoir some details of Collins career, noting for example that between 1788-91 Collins painted only the Royal family, but later began to paint the public once more. Humphry also claimed that George III only appointed Collins to the post of enamel painter because of his sympathy for Collins and his great grief at the death of his wife. In fact two other artists, including Richard Crosse, had already been appointed to this post. Collins career was so successful that he was able to retire on his earnings to Pershore in Worcestershire in 1811. But he apparently missed London and returned three years before his death in 1831.
Samuel Cooper, about 1608-72
Samuel Cooper was the son of Richard Cooper and his wife Barbara (who was born Hoskins). As a boy, Samuel, along with his younger brother, Alexander, came into the care of John Hoskins who was their uncle. Samuel trained as a miniature painter (then called a limner) with Hoskins, while Alexander seems to have trained with Peter Oliver. Samuel Cooper first worked in his uncle's workshop, and it is likely that his earliest miniatures are actually signed with Hoskins' monogram, 'IH'. Cooper's earliest known miniature using his own monogram was painted about 1635 and is of Margaret Lemon who was the mistress of the internationally renowned oil portraitist Anthony Van Dyck. Van Dyck had come to work in London in 1632 and Cooper apparently benefited from 'the Observations' he made of the master's work.
Cooper set up business independently of his uncle in 1642, and after the execution of Charles I in 1649 continued to work successfully in London, his clientele including Oliver Cromwell and his family. At the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Cooper's reputation quickly earned him the patronage of Charles II and his family. His position as the leading miniaturist was confirmed when in 1663 he was appointed the king's limner. When he died at the age of sixty-four, Charles II and Cosimo de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, competed to acquire for their collections the virtuoso preparatory miniatures of important court sitters left in his studio. Little is known about Cooper personally. An early biographer writing at the end of the 17th century, claimed Cooper 'spent several years of his life abroad', but this might simply have meant outside London. The same writer said 'he was reckon'd one of the best Lutenists… in his Time' and the diarist Samuel Pepys noted that he spoke French. Cooper died in London at the height of his powers.
Richard Cosway 1742-1821
Richard Cosway was born in Devon in 1742, the son of a schoolmaster in Tiverton. In 1754 he won a prize for drawing in the under 14 category from the 'Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce', founded the same year. 'Encouragement' included cash prizes to boys and girls for the art of drawing, considered 'absolutely necessary in many employments, Trades and Manufactures'. Other prize winners included John Smart and Richard Crosse. The society was founded by William Shipley, a teacher of drawing and painting. He also set up a drawing school in London to which Cosway was sent for training in drawing of 'heads, figures, flowers etc.' at a cost of 'half a guinea entrance and one guinea a month for two days a week'. It was probably Shipley who taught Cosway the basics of painting portraits in oil and in miniature - Cosway's first dated miniature is from 1760. During the 1760s he showed works at the annual exhibitions of the newly established public exhibiting societies, such as the Society of Artists.
In 1769 Cosway he became a student at the schools of the newly founded Royal Academy (R.A.). As an established artist he was quickly elected an associate Academician and then a Royal Academician. Before becoming an Academician he exhibited some miniatures alongside his oil portraits at the R.A.'s annual exhibition. But later he exhibited only his oils. In 1780 Cosway married Maria Hadfield, a talented artist and musician, and he also had his first commission from the Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and finally George IV. The Prince was Cosway's most important patron and Cosway would sign his miniatures with a long extravagant Latin phrase, translated as 'Principal painter to his royal highness the prince of Wales'. Cosway continued to paint ambitious oil paintings and to work as a fashionable society miniature painter. He was also a respected collector of old master prints, drawings and paintings. After the death of his only daughter Cosway became increasingly eccentric. He died in 1821, but his portrait miniatures epitomise the glamour of the earlier Regency society.
Samuel Cotes 1734-1818
Cotes was born in London, the son of a former Mayor of Galway and apothecary (equivalent to a pharmacist). Cotes was first trained as an apothecary like his father. But he was encouraged to take up painting by the success of his older brother Francis, a portrait painter in pastel and oil. He took instruction from his brother and began to paint miniatures in watercolour on ivory. He also painted some enamels and some pastel portraits. He married twice but had no surviving children. His second wife (Sarah Shepherd or Sheppard) was an amateur painter. In 1760 he took advantage of the opportunities offered by the establishment of the Society of Artists, and showed at their first exhibition. This first exhibiting society revolutionised artistic life in London, allowing artists to display their work alongside each other to a wide public.
Cotes was to exhibit with them until 1769, when he transferred his loyalties to the newly established Royal Academy (R.A.). His first exhibition piece shown at the R.A. matched the ambitions of the new Academy - a large full-length miniature on ivory of the actress Mrs Yates in the classical role of Electra (in the V&A). This was inspired by the large oil paintings of ladies emulating classical roles by the Academy's first president, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Cotes exhibited at the R.A. until 1789. He signed his works S.C., but shared these initials with the miniaturists Samuel Collins and a mysterious Sarah Coote. This makes it difficult to identify some of his works with certainty. There is also a suggestion that Cotes worked in Bath, but this again is possibly a confusion with Samuel Collins. Cotes stopped painting some years before 1807, and died in Chelsea in 1818.
Edith Bertha Crapper 1896-1979
The most recent major dictionary of 'British Miniature Painters', by Daphne Foskett (published 1972) covers the years 1520 to 1910. This means that artists working at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century are rarely noted. Consequently biographical information is not readily accessible. Edith Crapper is not mentioned by Foskett, but details of her biography can be found elsewhere. She was the daughter of the Victorian sanitary engineer, Thomas Crapper; her miniature of her father is on loan to the National Portrait Gallery, London. Edith Crapper lived in London, and from 1916 to 1939 she worked as an illuminator and as a portrait miniature painter; an example of her illuminated work on vellum is in the V&A. She was elected an Associate of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters in 1923 and became a Member in 1927. She is not however included in the anniversary publication of that society 'The Royal Society of Miniature Painters Sculptors and Gravers, One Hundred Years', (Lucas Art,1995). She died 26 January 1979.
Peter Cross, about 1645-1724
Peter Cross was the son of a freeman of the Drapers' Company and was probably born in London. His earliest surviving miniatures (then called limnings) suggest that he was born around 1645. For many years it was thought that there were two separate artists; 'Lawrence Cross' and Peter Cross. This was the result of a misinterpretation of Peter Cross's later elaborate curling monogram which seems to read 'LC', and also because of confused references by George Vertue, an early 18th century collector of facts about British art. It is not known how Peter Cross learned miniature painting. He had a very distinctive style, using tiny dots (stipple) of a mix of bright colours laid close together. The overall effect is of a pleasing 'soft-focus'.
This is quite unlike Samuel Cooper who relied on small lines (hatches) of red-brown pigments. It is possible that Cross learned in France - his monogram sometimes appears to be made up the entwined letters 'PLC' - and Vertue recorded Cross as 'Peter le Croix…originally french-name, tho he was English born & bred'. Early in Cross's career he won a number of important commissions, and in 1678 succeeded Nicholas Dixon as king's limner (miniature painter). He married the daughter of the sculptor Thomas Burman in 1669 and had three surviving children. After her death in 1700 he remarried in 1713, the widow of his first wife's brother. He lived in Henrietta Street, London, the same street in which Susannah Penelope Rosse lived. He died in 1724 and was buried at St James's, now Piccadilly, London.
Richard Crosse 1742-1810
Richard Crosse was born at Knowle in Devon. His was from a long established Devon family, whose family residence was an old thatched manor house. Crosse was born deaf and was also unable to speak. Nothing is known of his early education or training, but when he was 16 he won a prize from the newly founded 'Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce' [Society of Arts] in London. Soon afterwards he moved to London and, like Richard Cosway , John Smart and Ozias Humphry , studied at the new drawing school of William Shipley, the founder of the Society of Arts. He also took the opportunity to study drawing from the cast copies of antique sculpture belonging to the Duke of Richmond, whose gallery was opened to students at this time. From 1760 he took the opportunity to exhibit at the first of the new London exhibiting societies.
From 1765 he worked from Henrietta Street, which is where Samuel Cooper had worked in the 17th century. Because he could not speak to or hear his clients he was reliant on his brother, who kept house for him, and later a clerk named Mills, to act as mediator between him and his clients. He was very successful as a fashionable miniature painter, but personally kept away from society - as a young man he had fallen in love with a cousin, Sarah Cobley, but had been rejected, and the experience had made him bitter. Nonetheless in 1789 he was appointed Painter in Enamel to George III, although he worked predominantly in watercolour on ivory. He also invested his money in property and stocks and was able to draw on income from these in later years. He retired to Wells around 1798, and lived with the brother of his former love. He died in Knowle, his old family home, in 1810.
Annie Dixon 1817-1901
Annie Dixon was born in Horncastle in Lincolnshire, but nothing is known of her parents. In about 1840 she travelled to London. According to Ellen Clayton in 'English Female Artists (1876) she was taught miniature painting by Mrs Dalton. Mrs Dalton was a sister of Sir William Charles Ross and at the time lived with her brother, helping him to paint his larger miniatures. Clayton, who clearly knew Dixon, explained further that 'family affairs rendered it necessary that, early in life, Miss Dixon should make her own way in the world', and with a talent for taking a likeness, adopted miniature painting. She exhibited at the Royal Academy and found clients among the Royal Family and the aristocracy. She also worked in her home town of Horncastle, as well as Hull and St. Lawrence, Isle of Wight. Clayton noted that 'Miss Dixon loves her work, finding in it her greatest pleasure, and seldom gives herself a holiday'. Indeed, she painted over 1,000 miniatures in her lifetime, dying in February 1901.
Nicholas Dixon, about 1645-after 1708
Few details of Nicholas Dixon's life are known today. His first signed miniature (then called a liming) dates from the 1660s, and he is known to have been alive in 1708, which gives us a range of dates for his life. In the 1670s Dixon was paying the poor rate from his home in Long Acre, London. Long Acre was in the parish of St Martin's-in-the-Fields - a parish in which many artists lived. In 1673 Dixon was appointed king's limner (miniature painter), on a salary of £200 per year. This tells us something of Dixon's reputation at the time, since he replaced Richard Gibson who had briefly replaced Samuel Cooper when he died in 1672. Gibson was a highly regarded miniature painter and it is not clear why his appointment was no more than a year. Additionally, Peter Cross , who was about the same age as Dixon, was an up-and-coming miniature painter and could have been expected to want such an appointment himself - indeed he became king's limner in place of Dixon five years later in 1678. That it was Dixon who was appointed in 1673 seems to show that he was seen as best suited to replace Cooper as a court painter.
Indeed Dixon's style at this time was close to Cooper's and it has been suggested that he was possibly taught by Cooper. Additionally, Dixon had what has been described as a 'visual flair' which captured the spirit of Charles II's court, with his distinctive languorous court beauties with almond-shaped eyes. It is possible that Dixon himself chose to change direction in 1678 when Cross replaced him as king's limner. Dixon's later style has been described as 'graphic' but also more critically as 'scratchy' and 'dry' and while some argue that he consciously chose this manner, others see it as evidence of decline. In 1698 he organised a lottery of miniatures of copies after oil paintings by Old Masters. This may have been a bold effort to interest patrons in a different aspect of miniature painting - but it was unsuccessful and has added to the impression of a failing career.
George Engleheart 1750-1829
Engleheart was born in 1750 in Kew, Surrey, the son of a plaster modeller who had emigrated from Germany as a child. Engleheart enrolled as a student at the new Royal Academy Schools in 1769, where he gave his age as sixteen although he was about nineteen. He also had additional instruction in the studio of the landscape artist George Barret. Barret was declared bankrupt and soon after Engleheart moved to the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Here he served an apprenticeship intermittently from 1773 until 1776, and apparently made copies in watercolour on ivory (i.e. in miniature) of paintings by Reynolds. He was quickly established as a successful miniaturist and was prolific, producing nearly 5000 miniatures during his career.
He experimented with portraits in enamel and also occasionally produced full-length coloured drawings, but few of either survive. Numerous tracings of his work survive and seem to have been made after the completion of a miniature to aid in the production of copies if required by a client. His fee book also survives in a private collection and documents the activity of his 40 year career and the social standing of his clientele. After the death of Jeremiah Meyer he was appointed as miniature painter to George III, in 1789. Engleheart exhibited at the Royal Academy frequently between 1773 and 1822. He retired to his country house in Bedfont, Middlesex, in 1813, where he continued to paint friends and family. He died in Blackheath, Kent, and was buried at Kew church in the family vault.