Hope Springs Eternal

John Donaldson (1737-1801)


This engaging double-sided miniature pictures a young lady in a white décolleté dress trimmed with blue and worn with a fichu, her tumbling curls secured with a pale blue bandeau. On the reverse is a charming painted love token with chopped hair showing a young maiden offering a rose to a crestfallen Cupid whose bow and arrows lie discarded at his feet. The proverb ‘Hope Springs Eternal in the Human Breast’ running around the top edge was penned originally by Alexander Pope in An Essay on Man (1732) and is a message of optimism and positive aspiration.

The portrait is set in a gold frame that is glazed on both sides. There is a light vertical hairline crack running down the right hand side of the portrait. It runs through the tip of one curl of hair but otherwise does not encroach upon the sitter. The crack is stable and is really only noticeable under magnification. The love token on the reverse side is in fine condition.

Writing in the Connoisseur in 1907, Dr George Williamson described the artist John Donaldson as ‘surely one of the oddest painters that ever lived’. From humble beginnings (his father made gloves) Donaldson drifted from painting china into portraiture winning early recognition and important prizes from the Society of Arts. After only a few years, however, he developed a fascination for chemistry and wasted his money on failed experiments. He also published a volume of poetry that flopped. Indeed, ‘his eccentricities were most extraordinary’ and his politics most radical that he ‘made enemies in all directions’ and ‘gradually sank into deep poverty’.

And yet this attractive portrait is testament to a talent that, if only he hadn’t mixed business with politics but had concentrated his efforts in this direction only, would surely have guaranteed him a steady clientele and given him an excellent living.

Item Ref. 7237

Size: framed, 66 x 50mm