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Pools heiress Dowager Lady Grantchester leaves miniature portrait collection to Compton Verney

AN amazing collection of 70 miniature portraits has been bequeathed to Compton Verney Art Gallery in the estate of Dowager Lady Grantchester, who died in 2019.

The bequest – mainly of 18th century works – includes paintings by miniature specialists who are considered among the best in the genre. Expert Emma Rutherford, who assisted in the bequest, has rated nine of them as "masterworks".

Born in 1925, Lady Grantchester was the eldest daughter of Sir John Moores, founder of the Littlewoods retail and football pools empire, and she was a director of the company from 1977 to her retirement in 1997. Her younger brother Peter bought Compton Verney in 1993 and began to restore it.

After her retirement, Lady Grantchester started acquiring her own art collection, including the miniature portraits. The bequest bolsters Compton Verney's collection of British portraits, which currently includes just one miniature – Samuel Cooper’s portrait of Oliver Cromwell, the "Harcourt" portrait, acquired in 2007.

Isaac Oliver (15605-1617) A Gentleman, previously called Robert Devereaux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1566-1601). Photo credit © Christie’s 2021.tif (44754451)
Isaac Oliver (15605-1617) A Gentleman, previously called Robert Devereaux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1566-1601). Photo credit © Christie’s 2021.tif (44754451)

Julie Finch, director of Compton Verney, said: “The Grantchester Collection will bring both additional quality and quantity to the genre of portrait miniatures, which has traditionally been somewhat under-represented in Compton Verney’s permanent collection.

“We will be looking to create a new programme of activities based around these 70 beautiful paintings. We will be able to invite our visitors to explore themes such as comparing the technique and patronage between artists working at the same date, plus fashion, including how miniatures were worn and displayed.”

Lady Grantchester, Sir Peter Moores & Janatha Stubbs.jpg (44754447)
Lady Grantchester, Sir Peter Moores & Janatha Stubbs.jpg (44754447)

Made to be held in the hand or worn close to the heart as jewellery, portrait miniatures captured the likeness of a loved one who was far away. They flourished as an artform throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

Highlights of the bequest include two works by John Smart – one a superbly preserved Portrait of a Gentleman and the other, a portrait of Dr James Anderson, an important botanist based in Madras, India.

Other miniatures regarded as "masterworks" by their artists include George Engleheart’s double-sided portrait of a father and son, still in its original frame, and a lady wearing a hat by Richard Cosway, Isaac Oliver’s portrait of Mrs Holland, John Hoskins’s portrait of Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, Isaac Oliver’s portrait of a gentleman, Thomas Day’s portrait of a gentleman seated at a table and Jeremiah Meyer’s portrait of a gentleman in white coat.

A selection of the miniatures will form part of a new handling collection, aimed at increasing engagement with visitors and school groups.

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