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Miniature - Portrait of an unknown woman

Portrait of an unknown woman

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    1749 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Spencer, Gervase (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on ivory

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

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

Gervase Spencer worked in both watercolour on ivory and in enamel. Watercolour miniatures fade when exposed to light, especially, as in this miniature, the reds. At the same time, miniature painters at the date of this example (1749) were still effectively experimenting with the technique of working in watercolour on the resistant surface of ivory, which was naturally oily and non-absorbent. By the 1750s they had begun to improve the ivory surface and their painting techniques by cutting the ivory more thinly and working it in such a way to remove excess grease from the surface. The flow of paint was improved, allowing greater freedom of handling and greater transparency. Artists began to exploit the pleasing effect of the luminous ivory showing through the paint.

This miniature shows Spencer working with a greater appreciation of the beauties of the ivory surface. Though pale compared to enamel, this miniature demonstrates the increasing appeal of ivory as artists adapted their painting techniques to its particular qualities.

Physical description

Portrait of a woman in a white dress trimmed with white lace and pearls. A (now faded) red drape is over her left arm. She wears pearls in her ringletted hair and a pearl earring. It is signed "G Spencer/1749". The frame probably dates from the next generation - set in the back is another tiny portrait in miniature of a woman.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (probably, painted)


1749 (painted)


Spencer, Gervase (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on ivory


Height: 64 mm, Width: 46 mm

Descriptive line

Portrait miniature of an unknown woman wearing white, watercolour on ivory, dated 1749, painted by Gervase Spencer (d. 1763).

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

Summary Catalogue of Miniatures in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Emmett Microform, 1981





Subjects depicted



Portraits; Paintings


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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