Lens, Bernard III

Portrait of a Woman in a Blue Dress

c. 1725

Place Made
Watercolor on ivory
oval: 1 1/4 x 1 1/8 in.
Credit Line
The Latter-Schlesinger Collection, Gift of Shirley Latter Kaufmann in memory of Harry and Anna Latter
Lupin Foundation Center for the Decorative Arts
Accession #

Shortly after 1700, vellum (animal skin) gave way to slices of ivory as the preferred medium for portrait miniatures. Ivory provided a luminous sheen behind translucent watercolors, but the material had a problematic oily and non-absorbent surface. It took decades for artists to refine their established miniature painting techniques.

Bernard Lens III was the first British artist to paint on ivory. He adopted a stippling technique to help the watercolor pool onto the unforgiving slippery surface.

This painting of an unknown woman shows Lens’s technique of using opaque paint for clothing, hair, and the background, while his stippling watercolor covers the luminous ivory for the subject’s skin.