Andrew Robertson was the pivotal artist in the shift in portrait miniatures from the flattering ‘baubles’ of the eighteenth century towards a style which emulated the grandeur of oil portraits. Born in Aberdeen, the son of an architect, Robertson’s first calling was for the medical profession. Despite obtaining his M.A. in 1794, he had effectively given up on this profession two years earlier, taking drawing lessons from Alexander Nasmyth and copying the paintings of Henry Raeburn. He took decisive action in 1801, leaving for London and joining the Royal Academy schools there.
His letters, which were preserved by his daughter, detail his struggles as an artist, which eventually led to not only a new style of miniature painting but also a different attitude towards miniaturists. Dismissing the previous generation of miniaturists as painting ‘toys’ their colouring ‘too much like china’ , Robertson resolved to develop a ‘great style’ of miniature painting.
Robertson found he had many supporters for his new style of portrait miniature, including the appreciation of Benjamin West, President of the Royal Academy. He worked hard to emulate the effects of oil paint by using varnished watercolour (and was utterly delighted when Cosway mistook one of his miniatures for a small oil ).
This portrait of a young lady follows the same composition as a miniature by Robertson, also of an unknown sitter, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London [23-1885]. In both portraits, Robertson portrays the sitter from a slightly lower vantage point than seen in most miniatures, which adds an additional dynamism to the portrait. The tilted heads of the sitters and the gaze turned away from the viewer also compounds the feeling of movement.
K. Coombs, The Portrait Miniature in England, (London 1998) p.111
G. Reynolds, English Portrait Miniatures, (London 1952), pp.184-5. The picture in question was a copy of Van Dyck’s portrait of Cornelius van der Geest, now in the National Gallery, London, which was then in the Angerstein collection.