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Shortly after 1700, vellum (animal skin) gave way to slices of ivory as the preferred medium for portrait miniatures. Ivory provided a luminous sheen behind translucent watercolors, but the material had a problematic oily and non-absorbent surface. It took decades for artists to refine their established miniature painting techniques.

Bernard Lens III was the first British artist to paint on ivory. He adopted a stippling technique to help the watercolor pool onto the unforgiving slippery surface.

This painting of an unknown woman shows Lens’s technique of using opaque paint for clothing, hair, and the background, while his stippling watercolor covers the luminous ivory for the subject’s skin.

Details

  • Title: Portrait of a Woman in a Blue Dress
  • Creator: Bernard Lens III
  • Creator Lifespan: 1682-1740
  • Creator Nationality: English
  • Date Created: c. 1725
  • Location Created: England
  • Physical Dimensions: oval: 1 1/4 x 1 1/8 in.
  • Type: Portrait Miniatures
  • Medium: Watercolor on ivory
  • Credit Line: The Latter-Schlesinger Collection, Gift of Shirley Latter Kaufmann in memory of Harry and Anna Latter
  • Accession Number: 74.36

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