The latest artwork to be hung among Birmingham’s priceless masterpieces at the Barber Institute in Edgbaston has been unveiled.
Rosalba Carriera’s stunning 18th century pastel portrait has been acquired for £525,000 after a fundraising campaign.
The Venetian artist is only the third woman to have a piece displayed among the collection of fine art.
Carriera’s image of Irish politician Gustavus Hamilton, the 2nd Viscount Boyne, is the first major painting to be bought by the gallery’s trust under the directorship of Professor Ann Sumner.
The purchase was made possible after a bequest in the will of well-known Birmingham art lover, philanthropist and charity worker Elnora Ferguson, who died in 2008.
Prof Sumner said the acquisition was perfect for the Barber Institute, which until now has lacked a major 18th-century pastel portrait.
“It is a fascinating work on many levels, and is perfect for a gallery that is also an academic institution,” she said.
“We are already planning a major exhibition of work by women artists painting male sitters, possibly for our 80th anniversary year, and see it as one of the key exhibits.
“We are particularly moved by the generous bequest left to the Barber by Elnora Ferguson, which came at a particularly welcome moment in the campaign and enabled us to purchase the work in a difficult economic climate for fundraising.”
Carriera was born in 1675 and is credited with establishing the medium or pastels as suitable for finished portraiture rather than just informal sketches.
Her subtle, sensitive portraits made her popular with British, French and German tourists visiting Venice and she is regarded as the best-known female artist of her generation, influencing both Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Angelica Kauffman.
The portrait was carried out in about 1731 or 1732 after Hamilton visited Venice before returning to pursue a political career. He later went on to become a Commissioner for the Irish Revenue.
The work shows the young dandy in carnival attire, wearing a fine ermine-trimmed coat, a lace veil, black tricorn hat and a white mask, pushed aside to show his face. A similar portrait of Hamilton by Carriera hangs in New York’s Metropolitan Museum and a third in a private collection.
Prof Sumner said the Carriera would complement the later Degas pastel in the Barber Collection, a Portrait of Mlle Malo, as well as relate to other 18th-century oil portraits, most notably the Vigée-Lebrun masterpiece, a Portrait of Countess Golovine.
* The Barber Institute at the University of Birmingham’s Edgbaston campus is open between 10am and 5pm Monday to Saturday and from noon until 5pm on Sundays. www.barber.org.uk