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A Fine Samuel Shelley Miniature Painting of an Officer c1784


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Directory: Fine Art: Paintings: Miniatures: Pre 1800: Item # 1400057

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Painted by Samuel Shelley, this is a beautifully limned portrait miniature of a British officer. The epaulette being on the left shoulder, instead of on the more usual right, indicates that the sitter was in a cavalry regiment of the British army. That, taken with other characteristics of the uniform show him to be with the heavy dragoons. The white facings and silver buttons allow the identification to be narrowed down to the 3rd Irish Horse Regiment which, in 1788, became the 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers).

The painting itself has a cover glass, and is surrounded by braided hair, making for an uncommon and striking presentation. The reverse is fully signed and dated "1784/painted by/Sam Shelley/No. 7 Henrietta Street/Covent Garden".

The condition of the painting is excellent, with no cracks, bowing or paint fading. There was a small paint flake missing at 3:00 on the far right edge which has been carefully restored and is not visible. At the bottom of the hair circlet there is a slight disturbance which looks better in person and is of minor import. The sight size of the painting itself is 2 1/4" by 1 3/4", with an overall size of 3 1/8" by 2 1/2".

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Samuel Shelley (1750/56–1808) was, for the most part, self-taught as an artist. His first exhibition was at the Society of Artists in 1773, and the following year he entered the Royal Academy Schools at the age of 17 where he became influenced by the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Throughout his career Shelley painted in oil, illustrated books, and engraved several of his own works, but he is most particularly remembered for his watercolor miniature portraits. During his lifetime he exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Society of Artists, and the British Institute. In 1804 Shelley joined with W. F. Wells, Robert Hills, W. H. Pyne, and six other artists to found the Watercolour Society.

Shelley was a leading miniaturist of his time, ranking with Cosway, Smart, and Crosse. He also taught painting, with Edward Nash and Alexander Robertson being among his pupils. His works appear in most major museums.

NOTE: Identification of the uniform was possible because of the generous help of Christopher Bryant, independent scholar specializing in portraiture and uniforms.