The Cobalt Blue Dress

James H. Gillespie


Painted on card and with a distinctive background of burnt orange hatching, this watercolour profile is by the hand of James H. Gillespie, a prolific Anglo-American miniaturist. It shows a lady with blue eyes in a cobalt blue dress with a high belted waist worn with a white frill-edged pèlerine. She has an amber and gold beaded necklace and matching drop earrings as well as a tortoiseshell hair clasp and comb securing her upswept curled and braided hair.

Born in 1793, Gillespie began painting before 1815. By 1820 he claimed to have completed 17,000 likenesses. He toured the market towns throughout the Midlands into Northern England and the Scottish Borders painting on average 500 profiles in a variety of styles at each location. He was particularly busy in the fast-growing town of Preston where he painted nearly 1,100 likenesses but was less popular in Daventry where he only received 160 commissions. Around 1825 Gillespie left the British Isles for a new life in Nova Scotia from where he worked his way down the east coast of America.

The watercolour has a single brown spot above the sitter’s head but is otherwise in fine condition; the papier-mâché frame with convex glass and elongated acorn hanger is original to the portrait.

Item Ref. 4069

Size: framed, 142 x 125mm (5¾ x 4⅝")