- Museum number
Portrait of a dead child, previously identified as Percy Lemprière; head turned to right, eyes closed
Graphite and black chalk; on buff paper
- Production date
Height: 209 millimetres
Width: 155 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- This posthumous portrait of an infant was donated to the department by Eric Millar, a former Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum. Posthumous portraiture was common throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries, when infant mortality rates were high. They continued into the mid-19th Century, but became much less common with the advent of photography. We can speculate that the small plaited bun on the child’s forehead may have been swept forward to be removed for use in mourning jewellery, which was greatly in vogue throughout the Victorian era.
The work is accompanied by a label in Millar’s hand, which reads as follows: 'I obtained this drawing, which has an attribution to Sir J. E. Millais, from F. R. Meatyard, 2 May 1921 … who had purchased it at Sotheby's. It had previously belonged to G. P. Dudley Wallis Esq. (son of a curator of the Nottingham Museum) to whom this attribution was due. Miss Mary Millais suggests it may be a portrait by her father of Master Percy Lemprière, son of Col. Lemprière’.
This comment explains the former attribution to Millais, but poses some problems. Millais was a close friend of the Lemprière family in Jersey, especially Arthur and Henry, Percy’s elder brothers. (Arthur went on to be the model for the ‘Huguenot’ in the 1854 painting of the same name, now in a private collection.) However, Percy lived to the age of 41, dying in Manchester in 1880. It is therefore highly unlikely that he was the model for this drawing. In addition, the style of the work does not match others by Millais of members of the Lemprière family executed in the 1840s, when Percy would have been the correct age for such a depiction. (See, for example, ‘Harry & Arthur Reid Lemprière & Emily Lemprière, 1847, Leicester Galleries.) Nor do the black chalk shading and accents resemble later samples of Millais’s draughtsmanship, which display a more linear quality and a preference for ink over chalk. The drawing is also lacking Millais’s monogram that usually appears on his more finished drawings.
J.G. Millais, The Life and Letters of Sir John Millais, London, 1899.
[This curatorial comment was written by Olivia Ghosh, Anne Christopherson Fellow, Dept of Prints and Drawings, 2017]
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2017 5-28 Sept, BM, 'Ways of Knowing' (no cat)
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Meatyard purchased drawing at Sotheby's.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number