Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd

  • Plumbago on vellum
  • 4 ⅛ × 3 ⅛ inches · 107 × 80 mm
  • Signed centre right: TForster / delin / 1700


  • Sale, London, Bonham's Knightsbridge, 12 July 1993, lot 217;
  • Private collection, acquired at the above sale, to 2017;
  • Sale Sotheby's London: Wednesday, July 5, 2017, Lot 160

This grandly worked portrait, signed and dated by Forster to 1700 depicts Sir Benjamin Hudson 3rd baronet of Melton Mowbray (1667-1730). 

This is a particularly fine example of the work of one of the period's most brilliant yet enigmatic portrait artists, who was the foremost exponent of the plumbago drawing. As C.F. Bell and Rachel Poole observed in 1926, 'as specimens of virtuosity in handling a black-lead point with amazing sensitiveness and dexterity, Forster's miniatures have never been surpassed.'

'Plumbago' or graphite drawing developed within the Dutch print trade for drawings made for engraving and was introduced into England at the Restoration. The discovery of plumbago in Cumberland in the third quarter of the century encouraged its use by artists, including David Loggan and Robert White, who commonly made small monochrome portraits for engravings. With its potential for lustrous and tonal effects, the plumbago portrait became a popular form of intimate portraiture at a time when the practice of miniature watercolour was at a low ebb following the death of major exponents such as Samuel Cooper and John Hoskins. Although several of Forster's sitters were linked with James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde, many of his clients were private individuals rather than public officials. Forster's portraits of women are frequently less sharp and lifelike than the men, and it may be that he relied less on ad vivum sittings.