18th Century Georgian Portrait Miniature Dr John Clarke


Though we cannot be certain, it is possible that the following portrait depicts the Georgian physician and obstetrician, Doctor John Clarke (1760-1815).

It was likely made around the time of Clarke’s marriage in 1789. He left to complete his studies in Frankfurt soon after, perhaps leaving an image for his new wife. The artist is unknown, though the previous owner has suggested stylistic similarities to John Downman ARA (1750-1824). An engraving in the V&A shows an older Clarke, with his light eyes and distinctive peaked hairline. It credits the miniature painter William Wood (1769-1810).

John Clarke was born in Northamptonshire in 1760. By 1772 his family were living in Fleet Street. He became a member of the Company of Surgeons in 1779 and entered the school at St George’s Hospital soon after. Clarke left the Company for the Royal College of Physicians in 1787. After obtaining his doctorate from the University of Frankfurt in 1791, he returned to Britain, where he established a thriving obstetric practice.

A colleague of Clarke’s recalls him 'possessing an acuteness of perception superior to most of his competitors, and rather a brilliance of talents' His biographer, Kenneth R. Clarke, describes how ‘throughout his life he displayed a generous disposition and a lively social conscience, being especially aware of the importance of social deprivation as a cause of ill health.’

Later in his career, Clarke seems to have been chiefly concerned with infant mortality, suggesting a record of births and a compulsory record of causes of deaths. Such information would facilitate a better understanding of the issue and how to solve it.

The condition of the portrait is good, there is evidence of retouching to the sitter’s face.

Size (frame): 34.5 x 28.5 x 2cm
Size (image): 20 x 13.5cm
Weight: 517g