This portrait by the prolific late-eighteenth century artist George Engleheart portrays an unknown gentleman in the prime of his life. Slightly larger than many of his portraits from this period, Engleheart has noted details such as the yellow stripe in the sitter’s waistcoat and the etched brass buttons of his brown coat. The black bow which holds his powdered hair ‘en queue’ can just be seen behind the collar of his coat.
Engleheart ranks among Smart, Cosway, and Humphry as one of the most talented miniaturists active in Georgian England. Engleheart was the third surviving son of a German plaster-modeller, Francis Engleheart, born in Kew, London, in 1750, with an innate creative ambition inherited from his father. His artistic verve helped him to carve a successful and extraordinarily prolific career as an accomplished miniaturist. According to his fee-books, now in private hands, he produced some 4,853 portrait miniatures on ivory during his lifetime, many of which depicting notable members of London’s high society.
He began his professional training in 1769, when he was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in London, where he started as the first pupil of the Irish landscape artist George Barret (c.1730 – 1784). He shortly moved on to become an apprentice of sorts, working under the supervision of the celebrated portrait painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). He absorbed stylistic and technical influence from his master by meticulously copying his portraits in miniature. Indeed, as with the present portrait, his subsequent miniatures betray glimmers of those stylistic and compositional devices absorbed during his early years of imitation. During the period from 1773 to 1822, Engleheart exhibited selected works from his growing inventory at the Academy.
The skill and virtuosity apparent in his work attracted the attention of King George III who, in 1789, employed him as his Pictor Primus. This honour awarded him an abundance of commissions, some twenty-five from the monarch and royal family alone, and he henceforth built up a robust following of loyal patrons.