It was not uncommon for boys as young as ten to be sent to sea as midshipmen. The role of a midshipman included rigging sails, keeping watch and running messages between decks. Whilst at sea they were also taught mathematics and navigational skills; many were encouraged to keep logs of their voyages.
In all likelihood this portrait was painted for the boy’s mother as a keepsake before her son went to sea for the first time. He looks so young and vulnerable with his rosy cheeks and big brown eyes. Sadly we no longer know his name.
Painted by James Leakey, the well-coloured portrait is set in what appears to be the original gold-plated frame that is glazed on the back to show a small lock of brown hair laid on neatly plaited hair within a gilt-metal border.
James Leakey (1775-1865) was the son of an Exeter wool-stapler (a dealer in wool). He painted oil portraits and landscapes as well as miniatures, working mostly in his home town but also for a time in London and Bath. He exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1821 and 1846. He was much in demand and is said to have abandoned a planned move to Canada because he had so many outstanding commissions. Upon retirement he became a Calvinist preacher; at least three of his eleven children also became church ministers.
Item Ref. 7311
Size: framed, 72 x 60mm
Provenance: Bonhams, November 2012