Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey is widely regarded as one of the most significant and talented sculptors of the nineteenth century, however the present portrait miniature acts as a subtle reminder of how multi-faceted and ingenious Chantrey was in other disciplines.
Chantrey was born in Norton, near Sheffield, where, after being apprenticed to a woodcarver named Robert Ramsay and subsequently meeting the engraver John Raphael Smith, he took up painting. In 1802 he bought out his apprenticeship and set up a studio in Sheffield painting portraits, travelling frequently to London where he studied in the Royal Academy Schools, although never becoming a full-time student there. From 1804 Chantrey began exhibiting portraits at the Royal Academy and an advert in the Sheffield Iris in the same year states him as a maker of ‘Sculpture and Portrait Painting’. In 1805 Chantrey had received his first sculptural commission for Sheffield Cathedral and by the following year he had moved permanently to St James although it wasn’t for another two years, in 1808, that he exhibited what is considered to be his first major sculpture at the Royal Academy.
In 1809 Chantrey married Mary Ann Wale and set up a house and studio in Pimlico with the funds received from Mary Ann’s dowry, and by the next year had secured royal patronage, visiting Windsor for at least two sittings with King George III for his bust.
Chantrey was a prolific sculptor, exhibiting numerous works at the Royal Academy throughout his life and operated a studio of a significant size, charging 150 guineas for a bust and by 1822 200 guineas.
Chantrey suffered from a heart condition and died suddenly in 1841, leaving behind his greatest legacy; The Chantrey Bequest. The bequest, left to the Royal Academy and set out under very strict terms, was for ‘The purchase of works of fine art of the highest merit…that can be obtained’ and, following its transferral to Tate Britain in 1898, remained its main source of funding and is still in active use today.
The present work can be considered as the iconic symbol of his earlier, often overlooked profession as a portrait miniature painter and is mentioned specifically in both Daphne Foskett’s and Leo Schidlof’s iconic dictionaries of portrait miniature painters.
John Cust, 1st Earl Brownlow was educated at Eton and Cambridge before moving into politics, representing Clitheroe in parliament in 1802. Cust doesn’t appear to have played an integral role in the Commons and following his succession to the title of 2nd Baron Brownlow in 1807 entered the House of Lords. In 1809 Brownlow was made Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire which he retained until 1852, just prior to his death. In 1815 Brownlow was created 1st Earl Brownlow, writing in a letter to Lord Liverpool ‘no one has been a more steady and zealous friend to your lordship’s administration’.
In 1861 Chantrey’s widow gave the present work to Angela Burdett Coutts, a philanthropist and granddaughter of the banker Sir Thomas Coutts and who by 1837 was considered the wealthiest woman in England. The two women shared an intimate friendship and appear together in the writings of a number of influential figures and social commentators of the day, including Charles Dickens. The reason behind the gift is sadly not known, and there do not appear to have been any family connections between Brownlow and Burdett-Coutts, however a charming letter in Lady Chantrey’s hand is attached within the case which reads:
Dear Miss Coutts/allow me to offer you, my most respected/ and highly valued friend/ the accompanying/portrait of the first/Lord Brownlow painted/by my husband/the late Francis/Chantrey 1809[…]/[…] believe me/your grateful and obliged/Mary Ann Chantrey/July 1861.
Interestingly, another portrait miniature, this time of Sir Francis Chantrey himself by Henry Bone after John Jackson, was also gifted to Miss Burdett-Coutts by Lady Chantry, this time slightly later in 1869 [Christies, 10th June 2010].