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Portrait miniature - Portrait of an unknown woman
  • Portrait of an unknown woman
    Sullivan, Luke, born 1705 - died 1771
  • Enlarge image

Portrait of an unknown woman

  • Object:

    Portrait miniature

  • Place of origin:

    England (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    1760 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Sullivan, Luke, born 1705 - died 1771 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on ivory

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs Emma Joseph

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Portrait Miniatures, Room 90a, The International Music and Art Foundation Gallery, case 9

Luke Sullivan was over 50 years old when he painted this miniature, one of his first. Though modest in size, its vivacity sets it apart from the more stiffly posed, reserved works of many of his contemporaries in miniature painting. It is indicative of Sullivan's very different artistic background. He began as an engraver and assistant to the influential painter and print-maker William Hogarth, and spent the 1750s at the heart of London's artistic life. Like most of the artists of that time, Sullivan clearly assimilated elements of the French Rococo, a decorative style characterised by a serpentine sense of rhythm and freedom, a graceful spontaneity and frivolity.

Interestingly, this miniature is less like a portrait of a sitter posed for a likeness, than a decorative picture: the girl with her music in hand, her lips slightly apart as if held in mid-song, her body and her eyes inclined towards her audience. The conceit could reflect the popularity on the print market of so-called ‘fancy pictures’. These were single decorative images of young women caught in mid-action, for example, washing, or selling goods such as ballads.

Physical description

Portrait miniature of an unknown woman holding a sheet of paper. Miniature is in an oval setting surrounded by red stones.

Place of Origin

England (probably, painted)


1760 (painted)


Sullivan, Luke, born 1705 - died 1771 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on ivory


Height: 44 mm, Width: 25 mm

Descriptive line

Portrait miniature of an unknown woman, dated 1760, watercolour on ivory, painted by Luke Sullivan (1705-1771).

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Engraving, Illustration and Design and Department of Paintings, Accessions 1941, London: HMSO, 1954.


Watercolour; Ivory



Subjects depicted

Woman; Portrait


Portraits; Paintings


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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