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Ulric of England


Naval Portrait Miniature | Midshipman. William Wood. 1804.

Naval Portrait Miniature | Midshipman. William Wood. 1804.
Naval Portrait Miniature | Midshipman. William Wood. 1804.
Naval Portrait Miniature | Midshipman. William Wood. 1804.
Naval Portrait Miniature | Midshipman. William Wood. 1804.
Naval Portrait Miniature | Midshipman. William Wood. 1804.
Naval Portrait Miniature | Midshipman. William Wood. 1804.
Naval Portrait Miniature | Midshipman. William Wood. 1804.
Naval Portrait Miniature | Midshipman. William Wood. 1804.

Naval Portrait Miniature | Midshipman. William Wood. 1804.

A 19th century portrait miniature for sale. The  naval portrait miniature detailing a Midshipman from Nelson's Royal Navy, attributed to artist William Wood, circa 1804. The sitter, Midshipman Francis Harris, is believed to have served a long, and distinguished career in Nelson's Royal Navy.

The fine quality, watercolour on ivory portrait miniature, executed in an informal style with short, hatched brush-strokes, applied randomly to the background, being the trademark hand for portrait miniaturist, William Wood.

The portrait miniature depicts Midshipman Francis Harris dressed in a dark blue, naval  uniform with white lining to the collar and gold-coloured buttons. A bronze-coloured stock, with white ties, is secured loosely around his neck. The Midshipman portrait miniature captures a very young, English-looking face: bright powder-blue eyes, aquiline nose, 'full mouth', clear complextion and strawberry-blonde hair, falling in open curls over the forehead.

The frame to the portrait miniature is typical for the early 19th century being mercuric-gilt brass, oval in shape, with fine engine-turned finishings, and a black,  slightly rectangular, paper mache surround . A sprig of laurel, is mounted  just below the wall suspension ring, at the top of the frame.

The reverse to the frame shows paper backing (1800s), although split where the watercolour insets. Evidence of a later cover which has since been removed.  An old inventory number to the upper left (28), and a cartouche to the lower centre bearing the name 'Francis Harris 1804' (just legible). Size: 12.5cm x 10cm.

Condition report: Both the watercolour and ivory in perfect overall condition, The portrait miniature colours are bright snd provide a 'fresh look' to the young Midshipman's face. Mineral glass perfect, slightly convex, and free from scratches. Light ageing to the  mercuric, gilt-finished brass oval, and age-associated craquelure to the black paper mache surround.

Artist William Wood: Portrait miniaturist William Wood was Born in Suffolk, 1763. Wood was invited to join The Royal Academy of Arts in 1785. He exhibited at the Royal Academy and other notable venues. Several portrait miniatures by William Wood (including a portrait miniature on ivory), are currently housed in The Victora & Albert Museum, London.
Wood is credited with establishing a means to stabilise watercolour paint on ivory,(several other portriat miniaturists including George Engleheart also experimented  with stabilising techniques for watercolours painted on ivory).
William Wood was a  founder member (1807) and president (1808-1809) of the 'New Society of Painters in Miniature and Watercolours', also called the 'Associated Artists in Water Colour.' He appears to have worked from Bristol, Gloucester and London. He died in London (1810).
Portrait miniatures by William Wood are well executed, expressive and honest in style. This particular portrait miniature on ivory illustrates Wood's mastery of the combined ivory and watercolour mediums.

Portrait Miniatures on Ivory: The English artist Bernard lens is believed to be the first  portrait miniaturist to paint in watercolour on ivory (circa 1707). Portrait miniatures became (even) smaller, as the use of ivory, gradually replaced vellum. This further reduction in size may be attributed to the difficulty - and cost, inherent in sourcing and preparing ivory for use as a base material for watercolour. Ivory was readily adopted as the 'material of choice'  for portrait miniatures commissioned by the English aristocracy in the early 1800s.
Portrait miniaturists experimented with numerous materials to stabilisie watercolour on ivory including the addition of gum arabic to watercolour, roughening the surface, or exposing the ivory 'sheets' to the sun.

Ranks in Nelson's Royal Navy: in the early 1800s, the rank of 'Midshipman' was conferred to the sons of wealthy and/or aristocratic families, destined to become commissioned officers following appropriate schooling. Midshipmen were affectionally referred to as 'Middys,'  and  recruited into Nelson's Royal Navy from 12-14 years of age. In addition to their inherent boyish looks, they were indentifiable by the  white  patch on their uniform collar. The uniform  identification concurs with the naval  portrait miniature offered for sale.
Historical Importance: The portrait miniature of Midshipman Francis Harris was painted in the early 19th century at the height of the French Revolutionary, and Napoleonic Wars, just a year, or thereabouts, before the Battle of Trafalgar. Midshipman Francis Harris, is believed  to have had a long and distinguished naval career: he possibly served in Nelson's Royal Navy throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Clarification eregarding his naval career may be possible subject to conducting further research.

Laurel Symbolism:The laurel wreath has been associated with victory - triumph over the enemy in battle and war,  since antiquity. In ancient Greece bay laurel was sacred to Apollo, and used to form a wreath of honour for heroes, scholars and poets. Laurel also became the symbol of triumph in Rome and Greece: the term 'laureate' deriving from this tradition. The term 'bacca-laureate' (the name for the university degree of bachelor) may also have origins to this revered plant. The laurel sprig featuring on the frame to the portrait miniature, being particularly significant considering the sitter is a 'Midshipman,' destined for a higher rank.
Source & Further Reading:
Foskett D., Miniatures Dictionary & Guide: Suffolk, Antique Collectors' Club 1979
Guerber H.A., The Myths of Greece & Rome: London, Harrap & Company 1927
Lewis M., A Social History of the Navy 1793-1815. London: Allen & Unwin 1960

Price: SOLD

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