Richard Gibson (known as ‘Dwarf Gibson’ in his circle), was born in Cumberland and worked as an apprentice in a tapestry works before entering the household of Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke. By 1639 he was employed in the court as a ‘Page of the Back-Stairs’, experiencing great popularity with the King. Through the catalogue of Abraham van der Doort, keeper of the royal collection, we know that by this point Gibson was actively painting, for the former recounts the artist copying ‘the Picture of Adonis Venus Cupid and some doggs by Peter Oliver after Titian’. Following Pembroke’s death, Gibson attached himself to Charles, 2nd Earl of Carnarvon, Pembroke’s grandson, and throughout the Interregnum painted many people of that circle including Lady Elizabeth Dormer [V&A] and Elizabeth, Countess of Carnarvon [Scottish National Portrait Gallery; exhibited at Philip Mould & Co ‘Warts and All’ 2013 no.37]. By the Restoration Gibson was tremendously successful and by the late 1660s he changed his signature from ‘DG’, for ‘Dwarf’ or maybe ‘Dick’ to ‘RG’ for Richard, a pertinent display of his new status. After Cooper’s death Gibson was pronounced the King’s Limner, however one year later was succeeded by Nicholas Dixon, and appointed drawing-master to the Duke of York’s daughters.
Gibson had five surviving children by his wife Anne, including most notably Susannah-Penelope Rosse, a successful portrait miniaturist who, as well as painting copies of works by Samuel Cooper, also had a prestigious clientele of her own.
The present work is a fine example of Gibson’s capabilities in depicting his sitters in an engaging and dynamic manner, achieved here through a gentle twist of the head as if caught mid-motion. One of the key characteristics of Gibson’s work is his quick, confident handling of the paint, reflected in the background of this work on the right hand side. The sensitive white highlighting in the hair is also typical of Gibson, who clearly understood the effect that the light reflections had in contrast to the dark shadows, creating a powerful interpretation of volume and weight to his sitter’s hanging curls.