This portrait of a lady is typical of Daniel’s soft stipple technique, describing the mass of the sitter’s hair by employing short strokes and dots which blend into the lighter background. Also typical are the large, limpid eyes of the sitter.
For portrait miniature specialists, distinguishing between the work of the brothers Abraham, Joseph and Phineas Daniel is a difficult task, particularly as they did not sign their work. The life and work of Abraham has been somewhat confused in the past with that of his brother Joseph. There are at present no known signed works by Joseph, however we do know through his obituary that he was a well-reputed miniature painter who worked in both Bristol and Bath, and he also exhibited on a few occasions in London at both the Society of Artists in 1783 (a ‘Jew Rabbi’) and the Royal Academy in 1799 (‘five portrait miniatures’). Until any signed examples of Joseph’s work emerge, it is impossible to comment on similarities and judge whether there is actually a warrant for a confusion of styles, especially given that the one signed work by Abraham – a drawing of c.1790 showing Rabbi Moses Ephraim of Plymouth stylistically allows a very satisfying comparison with a number of works previously considered to be by Joseph.
The artists were the sons of Nechaniah Daniel of Bridgwater, Somerset, although it is thought they were taught by their mother. The miniaturists also worked as jewellers and engravers, with Abraham working largely in the Plymouth/ Bath area and Joseph largely in Bath. Newspaper advertisements of the period record a less-than-friendly rivalry between the brothers, all of whom called themselves ‘Mr Daniel’ or ‘Daniell’. Bath was an excellent city in which to capture commissions from wealthy visitors, there to take the health-giving Bath waters and socialise. Miniaturists often hired rooms for ‘the season’, ideally situating themselves above shops selling jewellery or trinkets.