Miss Frances Lee by Francis Cotes

Before photography, portrait paintings allowed families to have images of their loved ones. Take a deeper dive into the work.

Miss Frances Lee (1769) by Francis CotesMilwaukee Art Museum

British Empire
This portrait is of Miss Frances Lee; she the eldest daughter of Englishman Robert Cooper Lee, who traveled to Jamaica in 1749 to make his fortune on a British sugar plantation.

There he met her mother, Priscilla Kelly, who was the daughter of an African slave. Robert and Priscilla could not legally marry in Jamaica; they were married only after returning to England in 1771.

Nicknamed Fanny, Frances was sent back to England at ten years old, to board at a girls’ school, due to her delicate health. An uncle commissioned this portrait for Fanny’s parents in Jamaica so that they would have an image of their daughter (this was before photography was invented).

Pastel palette
Francis Cotes, the artist, was a famous portrait painter in eighteenth-century England.

He was known for his talent with pastel, pigmented crayons that produce delicate, pale colors. The greens, creams, and pinks in this painting show how the artist translated his color palette in pastel to his work in oil paint.

This little girl’s dress is made of both translucent white lace and shiny pink silk—and reveals the artist’s skill at depicting fabrics and textures in paint.

Miss Lee holds a curiously shaped bit of fabric. If you think it looks like a rabbit, you’re right.

She’s playing with a handkerchief tied into the shape of a rabbit. The simple toy, likely made for her by an adult (like an early balloon animal), reminds us of her youthful nature, despite her serious expression.

Children were dressed in their finest clothing for a portrait painting, thus Miss Lee’s fancy matching cap. Yet, portraits of children were not required to be as formal and detailed as those of adults.

Cotes was particularly skilled at painting children—unlike other artists, he did not paint them as tiny adults—and made a successful living painting their portraits.

Credits: Story

Francis Cotes
(English, 1726–1770)
Miss Frances Lee, 1769
Oil on canvas
36 × 28 1/4 in. (91.44 × 71.76 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William D. Vogel
Photographer credit: Larry Sanders

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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