Scottish artist Frederick Cruickshank produced a fine selection of portraits and portrait miniatures during his career.
Cruickshank’s affinity with portraiture began with his education. He studied under prominent miniaturist Andrew Robertson (1777-1845), who was a proponent of a more realistic, less-idealised form of portraiture. The teachings of his tutor are clear in Cruickshank’s work. There is a certain edge to his works which seem to capture the character of his sitters. Their eyes glint with thought and feeling, complimented with skilled brushwork which adds lines of personality to their faces.
Portraiture had grown steadily popular with developments in industry and trade which grew a larger, wealthier middle class. Having one’s likeness portrayed was no longer the reserve of royalty and the upper classes. More and more people could have their image immortalised. This was mainly done as a statement of one’s wealth and refinement. In the same manner, miniatures also grew very popular amongst this caste for their portable nature.
Cruickshank’s oeuvre reflects these societal changes, and its large volume demonstrates this burgeoning popularity. Figures of this fine set of society are captured by his keen, knowing brush. Their fashions are translated, not a bow or bootstrap missed, ladies’ hair shaped into fine curls of a modish manner. Depicting figures of an authoritative rank, Cruickshank utilises darker washes to depict them in a suitably serious manner. Figures such as Admiral Sir James Hawkins-Whitshed (1762-1849) and Lord Palmerston (1784-1865) are cut with less airy elegance and a grounded sobriety as befitting their reputation. Cruickshank was a fine translator of humanity.
Despite being Scottish-born, Cruickshank spent most of his working life in England, living mainly in Manchester. Advertisements appear in papers for those wishing to have their portrait painted by his hand when the artist was in the nearby area. It also seems he worked as a painting tutor. Records show that he instructed the artist Margaret Gillies (1805-1887). He also acted as teacher to two of his eldest daughters, Grace and Catherine. They are listed in the census of 1861, as their father is, as portrait painters. Indeed, both are also listed as exhibitors at the Royal Academy, alongside their father, who displayed his work for a period of almost 40 years.
It is particularly touching to consider that the father passed on his skill in portrait painting, especially in miniatures, at a time when photography was growing dominant. Perhaps he intended an old, established craft to live on in his bloodline. Miniature painting was also seen as more appropriate practice for women to take up. Therefore it might have enabled his daughters to practice art, as he had, in a world which very much restricted their every move.
Today, a few of Cruickshank’s works are now held in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, as well as at St John’s College, Cambridge.
Born in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy.
Married Catherine Baly.
Died in Manchester, Britain.