Oil on canvas; 15 by 10 ½ ins; 38 by 27 cm; held in a 18th century carved wood gilded frame
Provenance: Thomas Agnew & Sons; private collection, Jersey
Edward Byng was the principal studio assistant of Sir Godfrey Kneller. Initially employed about 1693 as a general assistant and then as drapery painter, Kneller obviously rated his talents for he charged him the task in his will of completing many of his unfinished portraits, also bequeathing him many of his drawings.
Plenty of copies were executed of Kneller’s works whether directly or indirectly from the studio. However small portraits of the type presented here are unusual and scarce. The style of this painting closely follows that of three small versions of Kneller’s Hampton Court Beauties (Philip Mould – Historical Portraits) that are attributed to Edward Byng. Furthermore the whole pose and composition is a direct version of that used by Kneller for his portrait of John Perceval, 1st Earl of Egmont, completed in 1704 and published in mezzotint in 1708. It seems highly likely that Byng finished this intimate and engaging full-length sometime around this time and perhaps chose to use the posture of Egmont which might have been in the studio. Either way, it displays great technical brilliance and assurance even on such a dramatically small scale. The elements of grandeur haughtiness and elegance that are all apparent in Kneller’s large works are all still apparent here, though ingeniously captured in finely reduced scale.