Miss White’s Friend

William Grimaldi, 1801


In 1801, the date of this miniature, the artist William Grimaldi was commissioned by Miss White, ‘a lady of fortune’, to paint miniature portraits of herself and her friends to take back to the East Indies. Duly completed, the portraits were all, bar one, accepted by Miss White. She objected to her own portrait on the grounds that ‘a better was presented to her sight every day in her glass’! Grimaldi accepted the return of this miniature without charge. His account for the other six portraits amounted to £133 but Miss White declined to pay it in full. As she was on the point of leaving the country, Grimaldi took legal action which led to the arrest of Miss White at Portsmouth. In court the argument was made that although Grimaldi did not lack genius as a painter, he had not employed that genius upon these portraits which were ‘indifferent likenesses’ in ‘over-charged’ settings. However, as the paintings had already been accepted by Miss White and not returned, the judge found in Grimaldi’s favour. A deduction of £2 was made from the settlement as the settings were indeed found to have been overcharged for! [Court of King’s Bench 16 Feb. 1802 – Grimaldi v. White]

Given that, apart from Mistress Dubois and Lady Aughrim, the only ladies painted by Grimaldi in 1801 were Miss White and her (unnamed) friends, it seems safe to assume that this portrait then is one of those disputed likenesses.

William Grimaldi (1751-1830) was descended from the family of Grimaldi of Genoa, the Merovingian Kings of France and the Princes of Monaco. He was therefore well placed to be appointed Miniature Painter to the Duke of York and later to George IV. Grimaldi was trained by his uncle and worked for several years in Paris, exhibiting regularly in London. Examples of his work may be found in many prominent collections.

Item Ref. 7378

Size: framed, 79 x 65mm + ring

Provenance: Christie’s, 3 March 1993 ; UK private collection

Literature: Evening Mail, 17 Feb. 1802