Categories: People

George Engleheart

George Engleheart (1750–1829) was one of the greatest English painters of portrait miniatures. Growing national wealth encouraged the market for portraiture. Numerous young artists took up miniature painting, offering clients keepsakes of their loved ones. Many, like the Scotsman John Bogle, came to London to find work, but Thomas Hazlehurst found a lucrative market in his booming hometown, Liverpool.

Engleheart is generally thought to have been born in Kew, Surrey, on 26 October 1750 His father was Francis Englehart (died 1773), a German plaster modeller who emigrated to England as a child; his mother was Anne Dawney He had seven brothers The family name was changed to Engleheart after his father died

He married his first wife, Elizabeth Brown, in 1776; and the couple set up house in Prince’s Street, Hanover Square, London Elizabeth died in April 1779, aged only 26 Engleheart moved to 4 Hertford Street in Mayfair, London He married his second wife, Ursula Sarah Browne in 1785; and the couple had four children: George, Nathaniel, Harry and Emma

In 1813, Engleheart retired full-time to his country house in Bedfont, near Hounslow in Middlesex He had built the house on land he purchased in 1783, and the interiors are said to have been decorated in the fashionable neo-classical style of Robert Adam His second wife, Ursula, died in 1817, and Engleheart soon after gave up the house and went to live with his son Nathaniel in Blackheath, then a village to the southeast of London

Engleheart died in Blackheath on 21 March 1829, and was buried at St Anne’s Church, Kew

His nephew, John Cox Dillman Engleheart, was also an accomplished portrait miniaturist, painting during the Regency era

Engleheart entered the newly formed Royal Academy Schools on 3 November 1769 He was a pupil of George Barret, RA, and of Sir Joshua Reynolds Engleheart started on his own account in 1773, and worked mainly in London for the whole of his career He regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1773 to 1822 He kept a detailed fee book from 1775 to 1813, which included detailed sketches of his miniatures The book remains in the possession of his family to this day Engleheart was a prolific artist: during the period of 39 years covered by the fee book, no less than 4,853 miniatures are recorded as having been executed by him

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His fees ranged from 3 guineas in 1775, up to 25 guineas by 1811 His professional income for many years exceeded £1,200 per annum

Engleheart mainly painted watercolour on ivory, and his work can be categorised into three distinct periods

His initial paintings were small in size It was common for artists of the period circa 1775 to paint on small ivories of approximately 1½ to 2 inches in height Miniaturists at this time were still learning to exploit the full potential of ivory, and were struggling to find ways of adhering the watercolour to its greasy surface Hence, they found it difficult to paint large areas of ivory, and tended to keep the miniatures small It was still fashionable for ladies to wear portrait miniatures on bracelets around their wrists, and small miniatures helped facilitate this Engleheart’s portraits of this era are sometimes signed ‘GE’ The flesh tones are coloured by reddish tints over a pale ground, with the facial features accentuated using a bluish-grey tone

During the period circa 1780–1795, Engleheart developed his very distinctive style, with his draughtsmanship and use of colour becoming consistent and high quality He still sometimes paints small sized miniatures, but he more frequently paints on ivories of around 2½ inches in height His works are easily recognisable: he often portrays his sitters with deep eyes under strong eyebrows, together with a slightly lengthened nose, and the flesh colour of the face is painted using a brownish yellow tone The corners of the mouth are drawn with diagonal grey strokes Engleheart imbues his sitters with a sense of gentleness, elegance and serenity; even his military officers look more at home in the drawing room than the battlefield He often used opaque white to pick out the details of the pale coloured dresses worn by his female subjects, and their hair is often worn high and/or powdered, as was the fashion of the time The men wear their hair powdered ‘en queue’, ie powdered wigs worn over long hair pulled back into a ponytail which was tied with a black ribbon Engleheart did not always sign his work during this period, but towards the end of this phase he began signing with a cursive ‘E’ placed in the bottom corner of the obverse, and he continued with this style of signature for quite a number of years In addition, he also started to sign and date his portraits in full on their reverse

The third and final period of Engleheart’s career is circa 1795–1813 His painting style does not really change from that developed in the preceding years, but his ivories are now large, measuring around 3 to 3½ inches in height The clothes of his sitters are much simpler, following the simple style which came into fashion in France from 1789 onwards, as a result of the Revolution Powdered hair was further helped out of fashion in Britain in 1795, when the British government imposed a tax of 1 guinea per annum on those individuals wishing to wear hair powder or powdered wigs; the tax being introduced to part finance the war with France (it was during the French Revolutionary Wars) The fashions of this era are referred to as the Regency style Men tended to dress like country squires: often wearing a plain navy blue or brown coat, with a white high-collared shirt and white cravat; their hair was brushed forward (imitating the style worn by the ancient Romans) and sometimes markedly pushed up vertically off the forehead Women dressed in the Grecian style, wearing empire line dresses in white muslin or coloured silk or satin; their hair is worn up, with longer curls falling either side of the face as the period progressed During this time, Engleheart tutored two of his relatives, John Cox Dillman Engleheart and Thomas Richmond, in how to paint miniatures As this final phase of his career progressed, Engleheart reverted to signing his work with a ‘GE’, in either cursive form or block capitals

Engleheart painted George III twenty-five times, and had a very extensive circle of patrons, comprising nearly all the important persons connected with the court He made careful copies in miniature of many of the famous paintings executed by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and in some cases these constitute the only information we possess respecting portraits by Sir Joshua that are now missing His fee-book, colours, appliances and a large collection of his miniatures still remain in the possession of his descendants