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Thomas Frye

(1710 Dublin – 1762 London)

A Fashionable Lady, with a Pearl Necklace and Pearl Diadem. Mezzotint. 55.3 x 39.7 cm. 1762. Chaloner-Smith 25.

The Anglo-Irish painter and mezzotint engraver Thomas Frye made his debut as a portrait painter in London in the early 1730s. In 1744, after hearing of the discovery of valuable kaolin deposits in America, Frye applied for a patent to manufacture porcelain. By about 1747 he was one of the co-founders of the Bow Manufactory at Stratford-le-Bow in the county of Essex, which was one of the earliest and most important porcelain manufactories in England. Under Frye’s management it developed in the 1750s into a flourishing enterprise turning out high-quality products, with the artist sometimes employing more than three hundred workers. Frye designed porcelain himself and probably also worked as a decorative painter. In 1759, ill health forced him to give up his activity in the manufactory.

Frye subsequently went back to painting portraits, beginning with the publication of mezzotints after his own inventions. In 1760 a set of portraits entitled Twelve Mezzotinto Prints from Designs in the Manner of Piazzetta, Drawn from Nature and as Large as Life was offered for subscription in London. The set consisted of lifesize character heads in different moods and poses, with additional attributes such as books and candles providing a genre-like touch.

The present portrait of a young woman comes from a cycle called Life-sizedHeads, Second Series , which was published by the artist in London in 1762 and described in the following words: “Ladies, very elegantly attired in the fashion, and in the most agreeable attitudes”. This charming portrait shows Frye at the height of his form and illustrates vividly the high artistic standard of English mezzotint production at that time. Its life-size format gives the portrayal a considerable presence, although the regularfeatured, doll-like face of the woman seems somewhat impersonal. Using a chopping knife and scraper, Frye achieves subtle tonal values and soft transitions which make the female flesh seem warm and vibrantly alive. With loving attention to detail Frye has minutely characterized every feature of the face, such as eyebrows and eyelashes. Soft light emphasizes the noble form of the forehead and nose and the delicate shape of the soft little mouth. The astonishingly vivid and almost palpable rendering of material enhances the artistic charm of the piece. The artist has evidently enjoyed rendering the various textures of the fine, lace-trimmed chemise, the soft fur collar, and the costly bro-cade of her gown. Set off by a flirtatious bow, the pearl necklace stands out from the woman’s bosom with crystal clarity. The gleaming precious stones and the cool precious metal of the diadem form an effective contrast to the softness of the carefully coiffed hair.

A superb, highly differentiated and harmonious impression with margins round the platemark. Minor ageing, a small repaired tear in the right-hand margin, otherwise in superb, untreated condition.

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