This likeness by Andrew Plimer shows John Jackson. A prosperous member of the squirearchy, Jackson was the proprietor of Hill House, Walthsamstow, and Rainton Hall, Houghton Le Spring, County Durham. Jackson had inherited Rainton from his father, Philip, on his death and lived there with his wife, Sarah Vaughn. John was not the only of the Jacksons who wished to have his likeness recorded and preserved; a miniature of Jackson’s younger brother – also called Philip – by John Downman was sold at Philip’s in November 2001, Lot 414.
The son of a Shropshire-based clockmaker, Andrew Plimer was, with his brother Nathaniel, trained for the family trade. However, whether from sheer Wanderlust or an adolescent fear of repeating the lives of their parents, both Andrew and Nathaniel decided to abandon the homestead in search of a different life. Thus, the pair ran away with a troupe of gypsies, with which they toured Wales for approximately two years before finally settling in London. When they arrived in London in 1781, the brothers both went into domestic service, with Nathaniel working for the enamellist Henry Bone and Andrew entering the service of Richard Cosway, whose 1780 likeness of the Prince Regent had just cemented his position as the most fashionable miniaturist in London. When Cosway chanced upon the young man copying one of his miniatures, he was instantly struck by the remarkable talent and eye for detail of this clockmaker’s son. Following this encounter, Cosway was generous in his support of Plimer’s budding abilities, allowing him to work as a studio assistant and training him in the essentials of painting portraits in miniature. Furthermore, it does not seem improbable that Cosway might have sponsored Plimer’s tutelage as a draughtsman by John Hall of Soho.
By 1785, Plimer had developed his skills to the point that he could establish himself as an independent artist. The following year, he was exhibiting at the Royal Academy, where he would continue to show his works until 1810 and subsequently in 1819. One of the most successful miniaturists of his day, Plimer continued to be much in demand until the 1720s, when his output slowed somewhat. Inspired, perhaps, by residual gypsy spirit, he moved on several occasions over the ensuing years, before finally settling in Brighton where he died, leaving a modest inheritance to his wife and four daughters.
The present miniature derives from the second half of Plimer’s career. This began in around 1790, from which date Plimer began to work on increasingly large supports and ceased to sign or date his executed likenesses. His technique in these years was marked by his growing use of a delicate cross-hatching that has much in common with engraving. At the same time, however, Plimer’s likenesses are characterful and rich in artistic flourishes, such as the accomplished delineation of the sitter’s cravat in short, confident strokes and his highlighting of it against the dark lapel of the sitter’s coat.