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Lt. Colonel William Cleeve

Portrait Miniature
1809 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

This miniature is an extraordinary example of a portrait miniature painted in the colonial Caribbean by a female artist who lived there.

The sitter, Lt Colonel William Cleeve (active ca. 1780-1831), served in the West Indies between 1801 and 1815 and was at the capture of six islands which became the colonial French West Indies. He travelled between St Kitts, Barbados, Dominica, and Martinique. Cleeve was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in Barbados on 6 November 1828. For his services as the Commanding Officer of the Royal Artillery at the capture of Martinique and Guadeloupe, he received the decoration of the 'Fleur de Lys'. According to a note by a descendant of the sitter, Ruby E. Cleeve, this miniature was painted after the sitter had apparently lost his good looks due to a bout of smallpox and was disliked by his family for this reason.

It was made by Charlotte Martner (1781-1839), a female miniaturist who worked in Martinique, in the French Antilles, between 1803 and 1821. Martner was born in Paris and likely learned to paint from her father, who was an engraver. In 1802, the artist submitted several of her works for exhibition at the French Salon. She relocated to the Caribbean with her husband in 1803 after a short stay in Louisiana. Martner painted miniatures throughout her stay in Martinique, including portraits of several people of colour who have yet to be identified. Some of them may have been enslaved: Martner and her husband owned several enslaved people, including Maximin, who self-liberated in 1804. Enslaved people may also have contributed to her artistic practice in the form of skilled manual labour, such as the grinding of pigments or preparation of grounds for painting.

The artist returned to France in 1821 with her painting box and several miniatures. She continued to write letters to her friends in Martinique but remained in France until her death in 1839.

Object details

Categories
Object type
TitleLt. Colonel William Cleeve (generic title)
Materials and techniques
Watercolour on ivory
Brief description
Portrait miniature, Lt. Colonel William Cleeve, by Charlotte Martner, watercolour on ivory, 1809.
Physical description
Circular portrait miniature on ivory of Lt Colonel William Cleeve, signed and dated by Charlotte Martner, and set in a wooden frame.
Dimensions
  • Diameter: 67mm
Marks and inscriptions
Mme Martner 1809 (Signed in the margin in black, lower right. )
Credit line
Bequeathed by Miss Ruby E. Cleeve
Historical context
Portrait miniatures were frequently exchanged between loved ones and family in England as tokens of affection and remembrance. In the Caribbean, where many were separated from loved ones and frequently on the move, miniatures became popular as well. Cleeve likely commissioned this miniature to send to family back in England or as a memento of his time in the Caribbean.
Subjects depicted
Place depicted
Summary
This miniature is an extraordinary example of a portrait miniature painted in the colonial Caribbean by a female artist who lived there.

The sitter, Lt Colonel William Cleeve (active ca. 1780-1831), served in the West Indies between 1801 and 1815 and was at the capture of six islands which became the colonial French West Indies. He travelled between St Kitts, Barbados, Dominica, and Martinique. Cleeve was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in Barbados on 6 November 1828. For his services as the Commanding Officer of the Royal Artillery at the capture of Martinique and Guadeloupe, he received the decoration of the 'Fleur de Lys'. According to a note by a descendant of the sitter, Ruby E. Cleeve, this miniature was painted after the sitter had apparently lost his good looks due to a bout of smallpox and was disliked by his family for this reason.

It was made by Charlotte Martner (1781-1839), a female miniaturist who worked in Martinique, in the French Antilles, between 1803 and 1821. Martner was born in Paris and likely learned to paint from her father, who was an engraver. In 1802, the artist submitted several of her works for exhibition at the French Salon. She relocated to the Caribbean with her husband in 1803 after a short stay in Louisiana. Martner painted miniatures throughout her stay in Martinique, including portraits of several people of colour who have yet to be identified. Some of them may have been enslaved: Martner and her husband owned several enslaved people, including Maximin, who self-liberated in 1804. Enslaved people may also have contributed to her artistic practice in the form of skilled manual labour, such as the grinding of pigments or preparation of grounds for painting.

The artist returned to France in 1821 with her painting box and several miniatures. She continued to write letters to her friends in Martinique but remained in France until her death in 1839.
Bibliographic reference
Summary Catalogue of Miniatures in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Emmett Microform, 1981 Damiët Schneeweisz, ‘Laboring Likeness: Charlotte Martner’s Paint Box in Martinique,’ Journal 18, December 2023
Collection
Accession number
P.14-1978

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Record createdJune 30, 2009
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