The Hair Bow

Archibald Skirving, attrib.


In November 1786, Archibald Skirving placed a notice in the Caledonian Mercury requesting the return of a package lost on the road between Hamilton and Edinburgh. The package contained a miniature portrait framed in gold of a lady wearing a ‘modern head-dress of white feathers’ together with a gold mourning ring featuring a lady resting by a pedestal. It must have been a terrible blow to have lost such pieces, not just for the artist but also for whoever commissioned them. One wonders whether they were ever recovered.

This portrait is attributed to Skirving on stylistic grounds and shows a young lady with deep blue eyes, her face tilted as she gazes at the artist. Attired in white with a double ruff collar and a broad sash on the waist, her powdered hair hangs in loose curls and is dressed with a bandeau tied with an eye-catching bow. Skirving’s portraits of ladies, and sometimes even the men, both in miniature and larger scale often include striking head gear.

The portrait is set in a fine quality gold frame with an inner twisted gold border surrounded by seed pearls within an outer blue glass border that compliments the sitter’s eyes and a narrow white enamel edging. The frame is enclosed on the reverse and has a fausse-montre hanger.

The son of a Scottish farmer and ballad writer, Archibald Skirving (1749-1819) initially worked as a customs clerk before becoming a professional artist. He spent some time in London but then returned to work in his native Edinburgh. During the late 1780s Skirving travelled to Rome where he stayed for several years. His return journey in 1794 turned into a nightmare when he was arrested by the French and imprisoned as a suspected spy. The later onset of eye problems curtailed his career as a miniaturist.

Item Ref. 6426

Size: framed, 85 x 73mm