Poignant Memorial Miniature

Senior Family, 1797


Mourning miniatures became popular expressions of private grief during the late eighteenth century and often depicted a female mourner draped over a classical urn beneath a weeping willow. Mourning pieces are more usually found in small pieces of jewellery or on the reverse side of a portrait miniature. This larger example has been created as a ‘cabinet miniature’ to be displayed rather than worn.

The miniature shows the four young children of James Gale Senior and his wife, Letitia, grieving at their parents’ tomb alongside their great aunt Letitia Laird who became the children’s guardian.

James Gale Senior (1758-1797) was the owner of Prospect Hill and Saltspring Estate in Jamaica. In 1785 he married Letitia Martin, daughter of the Assistant Judge of the Jamaica Supreme Court. The couple went on to have four children: Lewis Goodin, Bernard Martin, Letitia Maria, & James Gale. The children were all sent home to be educated in England. Meantime both parents, suffering from ill health, visited the Hot Springs at Bristol where sadly they both died within a year of each other; they were buried at St. Paul’s in Bristol. Following their death the family’s estates in Jamaica were bequeathed to the children but the actions of a corrupt land agent coupled with the emancipation of the slaves rendered them worthless. The three boys all went on to marry and have large families of their won (11, 14, & 10 children respectively!) whilst Letitia eschewed marriage in order to take care of their ageing aunt.

Painted on ivory in sepia tones with a touch of blue for the girl’s bandeau and with seed pearls, gold wire and chopped hair, the memorial is dated 1797. It is set with a verre eglomisé mount within an oval giltwood frame and is inscribed reverse with biographical details. In fine condition, though there is dust trapped under the glass and a couple of missing pearls at the foot of the tomb which show up under a glass as paint loss but not noticeable to the naked eye. Minor loss to the top of the verre eglomisé surround.

Item Ref. 6105

Size: framed, 152 x 134mm (5⅞ x 5¼")

Provenance: By family descent