One of the earliest customs associated with portrait miniatures was the giving and receiving of them between couples to celebrate their marriage. These intimate portraits were often commissioned from the same artist but personal choice and perhaps location sometimes led to the portraits being painted by different hands, as has been the case here. Marriage portraits were often separated by subsequent generations so it is especially gratifying that this couple have stayed together and hopefully will continue thus for the foreseeable.
Edward Sacheverell Wilmot-Sitwell of Stainsby in Derbyshire and Lucy Wheler of Leamington Hastings in the neighbouring county of Warwickshire were married on 18 March 1777.
Regal in cornflower blue and white with her hair coiffed and elaborately arranged over wool pads, Lucy’s portrait was painted by the fashionable court painter, Jeremiah Meyer. Housed within a gold fausse-montre frame, the reverse is glazed to show neatly plaited blonde hair. Edward would have carried this miniature about his person secured safely within a leather travelling case.
Edward’s choice of artist for his portrait was the more sober Richard Crosse. Having been born deaf and dumb, Crosse painted with heightened sensitivity to his sitters’ character creating meticulously rendered portraits. The artist’s account book shows that Mr Sitwell paid £8 8s (just under £2,000 in today’s money) for his portrait in April 1777. Set in a gold bracelet-style frame, this would have been gifted to Lucy to wear on her arm as a bracelet strung with coral beads or more likely freshwater pearls.
Born in 1753, Lucy was the only surviving daughter and heiress of Sir William Wheler, 6th Bart and his wife Lucy (née Knightley). Her mother was also a sole heiress so the family was wealthy through the female line.
Born in 1749, Edward Sacheverell Wilmot was the son of the Rev. Richard Wilmot, Canon of Windsor, Rector of Mickleover, Derbyshire and his wife Dorothy (née Degge). Edward subsequently added ‘Sitwell’ to his surname to fulfill the terms of a bequest from a spinster relative who died in 1769.
Edward and Lucy lived at Stainsby House in Derbyshire where they reared a large family of six daughters and six sons who all, bar one, survived into adulthood. Edward died in May 1836, aged 86; Lucy died virtually a year later in May 1837, aged 83. They are interred together in the family vault at St Matthews Church, Morley, Derbyshire. Stainsby House was demolished in 1974 to make room for a modern house built without any corners.
Portraits of Lucy’s parents, Sir William and Lucy Wheler, painted by Samuel Cotes are also available to purchase.
Item Ref. 7523
Size: framed, 36 x 32mm ; 92 x 74mm + hanger
Provenance: By family descent