George Washington. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.230-2008

George Washington. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.230-2008

George Washington
Enamel on copper in gilded copper-alloy frame
Henry Bone (1755-1834), after Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828)
England
1825
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.230-2008

Henry Bone, the best known English enameller, began his career as apprentice to a porcelain manufacturer, painting landscapes and floral scenes. He experimented with enamel techniques throughout his career, and his time working with porcelain was probably an important factor in this. By 1779 he was working in a London enamel workshop, painting decoration for watches and jewellery.

Enamellers often copied well-known oil paintings, and this miniature is after the 1796 portrait of the first US president, George Washington (1732-99), by Gilbert Stuart, one of four known enamels by Bone from this source.

The inscription on the reverse -'cracked in the fifth fire'- reveals how difficult the firing process was, particularly when making larger pictures such as this one. As each colour has a different melting point, they were painted on and fired separately, beginning with the colour that melted at the highest temperature. With each firing there was an increased risk of damage - the enamel might bubble or pit, or the colours could burn. It was not possible to correct mistakes. In around 1800 a clear glaze was perfected which gave a shiny finish that helped to hide irregularities created by the firing process.