Bernard Lens is known as Bernard Lens III to distinguish him from his grandfather, who is thought to have been an enamel painter, and his father, who was a mezzotint engraver and drawing master. He was born in London. Following the example of Rosalba Carriera, he led the movement in England for using ivory rather than vellum as the support for miniatures. The most prominent native-born miniaturist of the early eighteenth century in England, Lens made many miniature copies of old master paintings as well as miniature portraits ad vivum
. From 1723 he served as miniature painter to George I (1660–1727) and George II (1683–1760) and was a fashionable drawing master who numbered Horace Walpole (1717–1797) among his pupils.The Miniature:
Rubens’s celebrated self-portrait with his second wife and their young child (The Met, 1981.238
), which was painted about 1639, was reportedly given by the city of Brussels to John Churchill (1650–1722), first duke of Marlborough, after his victory at Blenheim in 1704. It hung at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, until 1884. The copy by Lens was painted in 1721, the year before the first duke's death. In contrast with Rubens's original, Lens centered the figure group, opening up the landscape toward the left and introducing slightly more space at the top and bottom. Certain passages in the painting which have darkened over the course of time—the folds of Helena Fourment's black skirt, for example—may be read more clearly in the miniature.
[2016; adapted from Reynolds and Baetjer 1996]