This pair of miniatures, dating to circa 1790, would have almost certainly been painted by Andrew Plimer to celebrate the betrothal of John Crewe, later 2nd Baron Crewe and Henrietta Maria Ann Hungerford, when they came of age. Unusually, the couple did not marry until 1807, when they were both in their mid-thirties, presumably due to Crewe’s entry into the army during the 1790s and his travels abroad.
Henrietta Maria Ann Hungerford was born in 1772, the only daughter of George Walker Hungerford of Calne, Wiltshire and his wife Henrietta Maria Hungerford Keate, and was the heiress to a large fortune originally from sugar plantations in Barbados. Henrietta Maria Ann married John Crewe on 5th May 1807 and had four children together, three daughters and a son.
John Crewe was the only son of John Crewe of Crewe Hall in Cheshire, a well-known Whig politician who was first made baron in 1806. John Crewe, later 2nd Baron, is thought to have entered into the army in 1790 or 1791, around the time these miniatures were painted, and rose through the ranks of Lieutenant from 1793, Major-General in 1808, Lieutenant-General in 1813 and finally General in 1830, before retiring a year later after losing his sight in one eye. Crewe also travelled as a member of Macartney’s Embassy to China – Lord Macartney being his mother’s cousin – early in his career, which was probably the reason for the delay of his marriage.
John Crewe was a somewhat fascinating character. At the age of two or three, Sir Joshua Reynolds painted him dressed as Henry VIII [Private Collection], after Holbein’s famous portrait of the king. As an adult Crewe accumulated hefty gambling debts which had to be paid off by his father by selling land. This led to a rift between Crewe and his father, which culminated in an attempt to disinherit his son. Accordingly, the 1st Baron Crewe left the majority of his wealth to his daughter, Elizabeth Cunliffe-Offley and her husband upon his death in 1829. According to a local historian Ray Gladden, who wrote a biography on the Crewe family in 2011, John Crewe entered into a bigamous second marriage which was performed at the family home Crewe Hall by a billiard maker.
Andrew and Nathaniel Plimer were the sons of a Shropshire clockmaker. Together the brothers decided against joining with the family business and fled from home to accompany a group of gypsies who were touring Wales and the West Country – the pair travelled with them for two years. Finally settling in London, Nathaniel worked for the enamellist Henry Bone, whilst Andrew went into domestic service for Richard Cosway from 1781, one of the leading miniature painters of the eighteenth century. Cosway took an interest in the young man and allowed him to train with him; he may have even sponsored Plimer’s drawing lessons with John Hall, an engraver in Soho.
From 1785, Plimer was able to set up an independent studio and exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts between 1786 and 1819. In 1801 he married Joanna Louisa Knight and had five children. The family travelled through Devon and Cornwall until 1815, when Plimer worked in Exeter, and after returning to London, they travelled to Scotland in search of new patrons. Plimer retired to Brighton in 1835 and died there; he was buried in Hove.
Plimer ceased to sign his miniatures from circa 1790, by which date he was fully established as a professional artist. The style of Henrietta Maria Ann Hungerford is reminiscent of several of Plimer’s works belonging to public collections including The Honourable Anne Rushout in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Miniatures by Plimer are also in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Museum of Cleveland in Ohio.
J.A. Manning, The Lives of the Speakers of the House of Commons, (London, 1850), p.289.
A, E and M Innes, eds., The Annual peerage of the British empire, vol I, (London, 1827), p.202; John Crewe entered into a second bigamous marriage; the Crewe’s children, which are also in the possession of Philip Mould & Company, are painted by Anthony Stewart (1773-1846) and have been catalogued separately.
W.L. Bowles, The Parochial History of Bremhill, in the County of Wilts., (Oxford, 1828), p81.
Gladden, Ray (2011), Park, Jerry, ed., The Crewes of Crewe Hall: A Family and a Home, pp. 33–39.
J. Aronson, M.E Wieseman, A Perfect Likeness: European and American Portrait Miniatures from the Cincinnati Art Museum, (New Haven, 2006), p.257.
L.R. Schidlof, The Miniature in Europe, (Graz, 1964), pp.642-3.