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Portrait miniature - Portrait of an unknown woman
  • Portrait of an unknown woman
    Meyer, Jeremiah, born 1735 - died 1789
  • Enlarge image

Portrait of an unknown woman

  • Object:

    Portrait miniature

  • Place of origin:

    England (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1780 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Meyer, Jeremiah, born 1735 - died 1789 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on ivory

  • Credit Line:

    Alan Evans Bequest, given by the National Gallery

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Portrait Miniatures, Room 90a, The International Music and Art Foundation Gallery, case 10

The pair of this miniature depicts the sitter’s husband (EVANS.167). They both show that a fine miniature need not be the preserve of the young and beautiful.

Meyer seems to have revolutionised the appearance of British miniatures on ivory from the 1760s. Painting in watercolour on ivory rather than vellum (fine animal skin) had led artists to work in a cautious manner. Ivory is oily and non-absorbent, and watercolour can be lifted from the ivory by any new brush stroke. This encouraged artists to lay on colour in careful dots and touches, side by side rather than blended. By the 1750s miniaturists had begun to find ways to improve the ivory surface and their painting techniques. The ivory was cut more thinly and the saw marks were removed by scraping. The surface was abraded with glass-paper and ground with wet pumice powder. Finally, it was pressed between sheets of absorbent paper with an iron, and vinegar and garlic were applied to remove excess grease. The flow of paint was also improved by adding more gum arabic, which allowed greater freedom of handling. This also resulted in the watercolour being more transparent. Artists began to exploit the pleasing effect of the luminous ivory showing through the paint.

Meyer was the first artist to realise fully the potential of these changes. He abandoned the use of cautious dots, and instead used the brush more adventurously. He created a graceful network of lines of varying length and colour, as this superb miniature shows. The bravura of this technique allowed for no alterations. It was quite unlike the careful, hesitant brushwork of earlier British artists working on ivory.

Physical description

Portrait miniature on ivory of an unknown woman

Place of Origin

England (probably, painted)


ca. 1780 (painted)


Meyer, Jeremiah, born 1735 - died 1789 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on ivory


Height: 73 mm, Width: 56 mm

Descriptive line

Portrait miniature of an unknown woman, ca. 1780, a pair to Evans.167, watercolour on ivory, painted by Jeremiah Meyer, R.A. (1735-1789).

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

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






Portraits; Paintings


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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