Samuel Shelley (1750–1808)

Samuel Shelley (1750–1808)

Samuel Shelley (Whitechapel 1750 – 1808 London)

Angels among Clouds

Pencil, watercolour, 141 x 170 mm (5.6 x 6.7 inch); laid down along the edges on a collector’s mount with framing lines in gold leaf, pen and brown ink and brown wash

- With Cyril Fry (1918–2010), 59 Jermyn Street, London, c. 1975
- Colin Anthony Hunter (1926–2013), Hampton-on-Thames, England


Samuel Shelley taught himself the artistic profession by copying the works of Sir Joshua Reynolds.1 His reputation as a miniaturist was considerable and almost equalled those of the celebrated Richard Cosway and George Engleheart. Shelley engraved a number of prints and drew illustrations. He first exhibited in London in 1772, particularly at the Society of Artists, the Royal Academy and the British Institution. In his studio in No. 6 Great George Street, near Hanover Square, in London, he received many of the leading aristocrats and celebrities of his day, who commissioned miniature portraits from him. Among his sitters was Lavinia, Countess Spencer, in 1788.

Shelley was one of the founding members of the Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1805, but despite his efforts to create a new platform for his watercolours, at the early exhibitions of the Society there were few buyers for Shelley's works in this medium, apart from his portraits, which had all sold in advance. At the 1805 exhibition he sadly made only one sale.

Maybe as a result of their relative impopularity during his lifetime, watercolours by Shelley are much rarer than his portrait miniatures. The classical profile of the right angel in our drawing can be compared to Shelley’s important watercolour Memory Gathering the Flowers Mowed Down by Time: Love’s Complaint to Time, preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (see fig.).2 This large watercolour was exhibited at the Old Water Colour Society in 1805, and is likely to have been executed around that date. Our drawing probably dates from the same period. A miniature of a Deceased Child Surrounded by Angels of 1799 sold at Bonhams in 2012 is also comparable (see last fig).3 The Metropolitan Museum in New York furthermore owns a landscape watercolour and a pen and ink drawing by Shelley.4


1. For the artist, see: Timothy Wilcox (ed.), The triumph of watercolour: the early years of the Royal Watercolour Society 1805-55, London 2005, pp. 28, 42, 162.

2. 568 x 392 mm; inv. no. 1754-1871; Wilcox, op. cit., cat. no. 23, p. 42, repr.

3. Miniature, 160 mm high; signed, dated and inscribed ‘S . Shelley. INVt: et: PINXt’ (recto);  ‘From an Epitaph - verses on a child who/ died suddenly -/ Richard Maclay./ Designed and Painted by/ Sam: Shelley/ No 6/ Great George Street Hanover Sq/ When we behold an opening rose/ In Spring its early bloom disclose,/ Do we not pluck it ere tis brown/ That all its sweets may be our own?/ So angels saw the blooming boy;/ His budding virtues swelled their joy;/ And thus of an excess of love/ They take him to themselves above./ Sent: May: 1799’ (verso); Bonhams, London, 28 June 2012, lot 39.

4. Graham Reynolds and Katharine Baetjer, European Miniatures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1996, p. 142.

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Samuel Shelley (1750–1808)
Samuel Shelley (1750–1808)
Samuel Shelley (1750–1808)
Samuel Shelley (1750–1808)
Samuel Shelley (1750–1808)
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