Annual Review for 2008

The 2008 year was another interesting one for miniature portrait collectors.

Although, very much a niche area of collecting, it seems to be of interest to a surprising number of people. I get three or four emails a week from visitors asking about miniatures and do try to answer them all. Many of the emails are asking about decorative or fake miniatures. However, that is to be expected, as genuine miniatures are very much in a minority, as a proportion of the total in existence.

The 2008 acquisitions to this collection should appear here as a slide-show, if I have got the linkage to work! The slide-show may take up to a minute to appear. If it does, the miniatures will then appear in an approximate chronological order of when they were painted.

As has been mentioned elsewhere, this collection has set out to indicate that it is possible for an ordinary collector to assemble a collection of international interest and merit, even on a limited budget. The target average budget cost for purchasing is $500 and naturally there is a wide range. The most expensive miniature portrait in 2008 cost $2000 and the cheapest one cost about $50. Thus to come in at an average cost of just under $400 for 2008, compared to the budget average limit of $500 was pleasing.

Buying for the collection was a little more restrained in 2008, than in 2007, as indicated by the following table of miniatures purchased.

Origin ..................... 2008

American ................. 33
British ...................... 18
European ..................07
Total ......................... 58
Total cost ......... $22,500
Average cost ......... $388

This compares to 90 miniatures in 2007, which had an average cost of $435. For more details on 2007, see Annual Review for 2007

My favourite "top ten" acquisitions, but not necessarily in order of importance are:

Michael Rosse- portrait of King William III, see View
Walter Ferris Biggs - portrait of Luna Alston de Gallegos, see View
William Douglas - portraits of his children, see View
Jeanne Maricot - portrait of a lady, see View
Daniel and Maria Louise Wagner - portrait of a lady, see View
Charles Fraser- portrait of Mary Branford Shubrick, see View
Dorothea Kellner - portraits of General and Mrs von Cramon, see View
Henry Bone - portrait of Sir Anthony Carlisle, see View
Mervia Carpenter - self portrait, see View
William John Thomson - portrait of Charlotte Knox Trotter, see View

It is quite hard to make such a selection, as it leaves out miniatures acquired during the year by artists such as; Nathaniel Rogers, Joseph Wood, Anson Dickinson, John Wood Dodge, and of sitters such as; Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany, the Root family, John Tweed, and the 4th Earl of Egremont.

As 2008, has been such a disastrous year for investments in equities and houses, it is relevant to consider the investment implications of miniature portraits, although investment gains are not the main purpose of collecting these miniatures.

The main difference between an investment and a collection, is that an investment is for sale, but a collection is not for sale. Thus these miniatures are defined as a collection, not as an investment.

Nevertheless, estimated values do give an indication as to whether money has been spent wisely. Also, perhaps to encourage other people contemplating the collecting of miniatures, to realise that they can be worth more than they cost, provided one is careful.

As noted above, in 2008, 58 miniatures were purchased for about $22,500. Obviously, one can only be sure of selling values by going to the market and allowing for all selling costs.

Dealer experts will have their own opinion and judgement on the net market value of the 58 miniatures acquired this year, but a considered guestimate is for a combined net auction value, after selling fees at a specialist auction, of around $50,000. Thus on average, they are probably worth around two and a half times their cost.

The reasons for a margin over cost are threefold; luck, knowledge, and research, mainly the latter.

Research is very time consuming, but learning the background to the sitter in a miniature and building up its history, adds enormously to its interest and hence its value.

2009 Additions and Comments
Hopefully, visitors will feel that my 2008 comments have added to general knowledge on a fascinating subject.

I will open a new section for 2009 comments and so anyone interested in following any comments and additions during 2009, should link to the home page instead of this page.


December, Additions to the collection

There have been three additions to the collection at the end of the 2008 year.

One each from America, Britain, and Europe.

The earliest is an American miniature of a young man, named A Leache aged 17. It was painted in 1825 by Antonio Meucci, an artist born in Italy, but who was working in the United States between 1818 and 1827.

For more about it see Meucci, Antonio - portrait of J Leache

The unsigned British miniature portrait is of Fanny Goschen. She was a member of a very wealthy British family.

Her eldest brother was Viscount George Joachim Goschen, Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Lord of the Admiralty.

For more about her and her family, see Unknown - portrait of Fanny Goschen

The third miniature is an important portrait of Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany. The artist is so far only known by their initials. The miniature is interesting in that the Crown Prince is in full dress uniform, but he is holding a cigarette in his right hand.

This is one of only a couple of miniatures I have ever seen with a sitter holding a cigarette and it is most unusual in such a formal portrait.

He was the son of the Kaiser in World War I and commanded the 5th Army until November 1916, a two-year period which included the battle of attrition known as the Verdun Offensive.

From April 1916 onward he tried in vain to convince the supreme command that the Verdun offensive no longer made any sense, but the campaign continued until September 2nd of that year.

During World War I he was belittled as the "Clown Prince" by the British soldiers; that nickname was adopted by the American forces in 1917.

For more about the Crown Prince and the miniature, see Artist "J T A" - portrait of Crown Prince Willhelm of Germany


December - The market - fake and genuine miniatures

As a little test, albeit unscientific, I recently did a search on eBay in the Art category, using the two words; "ivory" and "miniature", just to see what proportion were fakes! Also what proportion of the genuine miniatures were worth bidding on for the average collector.

I was surprised when the proportion of fakes was even higher than I expected. I had expected it to be about 50:50. The eBay search brought up 338 items, of which about 40% were "red herrings" i.e. caught in the net in error! That left 196 ivory miniatures. Of these only, 37 or 19%, were genuine and the majority, 159 or 81%, were decorative fakes!

The 37 genuine items included some of poor quality and some with ridiculously high prices. None of the 37 were signed by the artist, although several were attributed to artists. None of the 37 had identified sitters. There were only one or two that could possibly be recommended as worth bidding on.

Fake miniatures
There has been the usual mix of fake and genuine miniatures appearing in the market place. Most fakes are obvious, but several fakes were dangerous ones in my opinion. The most dangerous fakes are where the seller, provides a misleading description.

Regular visitors will know that there are many easily detectable fakes, such as those with piano key frames. Showing here are three that are less obvious and where the seller made claims as to authenticity which I believe cannot be substantiated.

The first one was described as; "Titled on reverse, "Miss Bover" - Original Miniature Portrait Painting on Ivory in Watercolor and body color. Signed J. Hoppner 1790. - In the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, there is a portrait on ivory of the Princess of Wales with a very similar frame, composition and signature. That portrait, dated 1787, is attributed to John Hoppner, based on the signature. - You may view that painting online, by visiting the website of the Philadelphia Museum of art and searching their collection for John Hoppner."

It was offered for sale with an opening price of $1,195 and a Buy It Now price of $2000. However, both this miniature and the one referred to in the Philadelphia Museum of Art are 19C fakes. The catalog of the Philadelphia Museum illustrates over 400 miniatures in its collection, but there is a sprinkling of fake miniatures in their collection. Whether the Museum has subsequently had their collection reassessed, I do not know, but it shows that even Museums can make mistakes. This often happens when an item is gifted to a museum by a donor who believes in good faith that an item is genuine.

There are many things wrong with the miniature, but the main point is that Hoppner did not paint miniatures. Daphne Foskett was the acknowledged expert on British miniatures, but she did not even list him in her dictionary. Also the colors and frame are all wrong for the time.

So remember, just because a similar example appears in a museum, does not necessarily mean either of them are genuine. To be fair to the seller of this item, when I emailed them to tell them it was a fake, they withdrew it from sale.

The second miniature is also a fake, but the seller took no notice of my email telling them it is a fake. I think that shows a dishonest seller.

It was described as; "Giovanna Garzoni 1600 - 1670 - 17th Century (Italian) A simply wonderfully executed and very very rare 17th Century miniature painting of an aristocratic lady in formal dress. Signed by the artist G (giovanna) Garzoni and dated 1650, this is a wonderful opportunity to purchase a major find. It is inscribed verso Duchess de D******** but I can not make the last part of the name out. I have rarely seen a miniture portrait painting of this quality and feel safe in saying it will make a superb investment for the winning bidder."

There was also a lot more in the eBay description about Garzoni, all giving the impression the miniature is genuine.

My email pointed out that it appeared to be on ivory, which was not used in 1670 for miniatures, also the colors are all wrong for the period, as is the frame. It must have been copied from an engraving in the 19C. As I write this the bid price is up to $338, which is about all it is worth. [Later - this fake finally sold for $1525.] The seller has a number of other fakes for sale, with misleading descriptions, although not quite as bad, see Items for sale so be warned.

The actual third miniature is not an actual fake as such, but the sitter has been given a fake identification. The miniature is French, not American.

It was offered by Early American Auctions and described as; "Painting on Ivory of a Young Patrick Henry - c. 1770, 18th Century, Oil Painted on Ivory, Miniature Portrait of a Gentleman, Choice Extremely Fine. Unsigned, 2.75" diameter, housed in a period round gilt frame, and quite handsome. This image looks like a young Patrick Henry of Virginia, with light-green eyes, wearing a purple jacket, fancy vest and ascot. PROVENANCE: Ex: Freeman Auction Gallery, From the collection of D. Virginia Armentrout of Ambler, Pennsylvania."

This is a case where the vendor is making a misleading statement in my opinion. The starting price is $1 (yes, $1) with an estimate of $6000 - $8000! The auction has not yet taken place, but I hope no one is fooled by the claim. [Later, the miniature sold for around $6000 inclusive of the buyer's premium, which was far too high for an unknown sitter by an unknown artist. I think it was worth under $500.]

Puzzling, is another item sold at auction. I will refrain from saying they are fakes, but this pair of miniatures has me a little worried.

They sold for GBP317 and were described as: "Fine pair of Georgian period portrait miniatures. Circa 1780. In a shield shaped fitted easel stand with a family crest to the top. The miniatures are possibly of husband and wife but there are no details at all with the portraits. The lady is signed with initials 'TP' or possibly 'JP'. Each portrait measures 1 & 5/8ths" high. The easel frame is slightly later in date, probably 1830's and was originally velvet but the plush has now worn down to the material underneath, the back is still in excellent condition with the original pink silk and the stand is working fine. Overall height is 5 & 1/4" high. The miniatures are in excellent condition."

My concern is that the stand looks very modern and the actual crest looks like those modern pewter reproductions ones sees for sale on family history sites. Thus I wonder if the miniatures are also new, as they look rather odd for 18C miniatures. I think this seller is honest, but I hope they have not been fooled themselves.

Modern fake miniatures are rare. I have been surprised none have appeared on the market from China, as they seem an obvious target for modern fakers. I may be mistaken and it may be genuine, but my reason for posting it here, is in case there is anyone who may be starting to make fake shields and offer them for sale. Thus if any similar items appear, please let me know.

Genuine Miniatures
Genuine miniatures seem to require less comment. Their quality is obvious and the experts can pick them out, even when the auction house does not recognise the artist.

Although this was not the case with the first item. It was offered by Alex Cooper Auctions and has impeccable provenance, being illustrated in a book and was described as; "Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741-1827). Quarter-length portrait of General Jonathan Sellman, oval watercolor, 1 5/8 x 1 3/8 in., mounted in a gold pendant with chain. Reference: Portraits and Miniatures by Charles Willson Peale, by Charles Coleman Sellers, 1952, pgs. 192 & 261."

The estimate was for a hammer price of $25,000 - $35,000 and it sold exactly at the mid point for $30,000.

The second two miniatures were offered by Eldreds, but they obviously did not know who the artists were, as the pre sale estimate for the two was only $200 - $300. The description said only; "Two miniature portraits - One of a lady, 1 3/4" x 1 3/8", the other of a gentleman, 1 1/4" x 1". Unsigned."

However they achieved a combined hammer price of $1300 which was still cheap, as the man is by a famous British artist named Jeremiah Meyer.

I could not pick the artist for the lady, but she looks to be a genuine 18C item, although in a modern American frame. [Later, a kind visitor tells me the lady "is by Louis Sicardi, a beautiful miniature, although it seems to have seen better days".]

David Rago Auctions offered two other miniatures with a combined pre-sale estimate of $600 - $800. They were described only as; "Miniature watercolor on ivory - Two pieces: young woman wearing a gray dress holding a baby in a lace cap, ca. 1840, together with a miniature on ivory of a child with a red necklace. Larger (sight): 2" x 3 1/2".

They sold after spirited bidding for $1900 plus buyer's commission as the bidders had picked the one on the left as being by Mrs Moses B Russell. She is also known as Clarissa Peters.

However, it is not one of her best miniatures, being of a child among clouds, probably deceased, and it is rather dull. I do not know the other artist, both frames are modern.

An interesting miniature was this one of a man wearing a wig sold by Kaminski Auctions for a hammer price of $700. It was described only as; "18th Century American miniature portrait on ivory of a gentleman, mounted in a solid rose gold pin/pendant, fitted in a leather case."

However, I could not pick the artist. I ruled out Robert Fulton, although it is a little similar to his American miniatures. I thought it might possibly be by John Ramage, but was not confident enough to bid. I do think whoever picked the artist got a bargain.

Another miniature, I think was cheap, given the sitter, was this miniature of Mark Twain, sold by Davis Rago Auctions for a hammer price of $2800.

It was described as:
"G.C. Richter portrait miniature of Mark Twain. After 1904 portrait by Edoardo Gelli, with 14k pendant frame, indistinctly marked, probably Carter & Gough, 2 3/4" x 2 3/8" below bail. (Note: This pendant was probably by descent through the Clemens family. "I have had many portraits painted, though each one I vowed would be the last; and as I don't believe any one's word should be broken in at least 10 years, I guess you really will be the last on to do it." Mark Twain to portrait painter James Carroll Beckwith c. 1890 at the age of 60. In 1904, at the age of 74, Twain sat for his final portrait with notable Italian pinter Edoardo Gelli. That painting was exhibited at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and currently is in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum. It is most likely that this miniature was commissioned for a member of the Clemens family before the 1st World War."

Although Twain is quoted as sitting for many portraits, that was for large portraits. Miniature portraits of him are rare. For more about miniature portraits of him, including one in this collection thought to be of him, see; Wilmot, Alta Eliza - portrait of Mark Twain

While on the subject of Mark Twain, one of his quotes suits me fine. It is: "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow" Mark Twain

However, the above examples show some bargains can still be found, by those willing to study hard and not skip their homework!


November - more from the market, fake and genuine

Fakes at auction

I recently mentioned two fake miniatures of George Washington offered at auction by a well known Dallas auction house, which were claimed to be genuine. See George Washington and the 2008 Financial Crisis - part 4

They also re-offered at auction as genuine, another miniature (showing left) with a high estimate $15,000 - $20,000, claimed to be; WALTER ROBERTSON (Irish/American, 1750-1801) Charles Robertson (the artist's brother), late 18th century Watercolor on ivory (5.1 x 3.8 cm)

However, I do not believe it has anything to do with either of the Robertson's, instead being by unknown artist of very mediocre ability.

Fortunately, both the "Washington" miniatures and the "Robertson" miniature appear not to have sold, which is a relief.

However, there were 14 bids on another fake (showing right) which sold for $7000, compared to an estimate of $15,000-$750,000 (sic!!). It offered by a different auction house based in Poughkeepsie NY and was described as; "18th C. oil on ivory portrait of Timothy Pickering sgd. G. Stuart.Pickering was one of original signers of Declaration of Independance and the first Post Master General of U.S."

Items like this concern me and show the need for "Buyer Beware". The description appears to be carefully written so there can be no "comeback", but is intended to make bidders believe it is a genuine original miniature from the 18C.

The auction small print reads; "Every item is sold "as is, where is". Neither the Auctioneer nor the Seller makes any warranties or representations of any kind or nature with respect to said property. All sales are final. Catalog descriptions are for simple identification purposes only. No representations are made as to authenticity, age, origin or value. Buyer relies solely on his/her own judgment when bidding."

However, the style, size, shape, and frame are all wrong for an 18C original. At best it is a late 19C copy of a portrait of Pickering and worth $300.

Thus the bidder who paid $7000 plus commission, say $8000 in total, is well out of pocket.

He/she will believe they have an original and no doubt some years in the future it will be innocently re-offered for sale as genuine by another family member, but it will still be a fake.

This is probably what happened with the George Washington and Robertson fakes mentioned above. Likely bought a number of years ago as "genuine" investments for very high prices. The vendor is no doubt now puzzled as to why they cannot show a profit on sale, nor even recoup their investment.

Genuine miniatures at auction
Normally, I do not comment on miniatures sold in Britain or Europe as there are so many of them and they are well documented in the specialist catalogues issued by the major auction houses.

However, one most interesting miniature sold on eBay for GBP250 was a miniature of an unknown lady in white, signed "Biffin 1818".

Sarah Biffin (1784-1850) was an remarkable miniature painter who was born without arms and legs, 1784-1850.

It is amazing to see the detail in the miniature portraits by this talented lady who taught herself to write, sew, and paint using only her mouth to steady the brush.

Recently sold by Doyle's were several American miniatures, with mixed hammer prices.

One of an unknown man against a green background and signed "Hudson 1817" for William Hudson sold for only $500, against an estimate of $1000 - $1500.

An attractive miniature attributed to James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889) being a portrait of Polly Stuart Webb Vincent in watercolor and gouache on ivory sold for $950, against an estimate of $800 - $1200.

The highest price was for an unknown man against a sky background. It was unattributed but sold for $2250, against an estimate of $400 - $600. I cannot pick the artist, although it may be by Anson Dickinson. Expert opinion would be welcome.

Unfortunately, I bid unsuccessfully on the last of the four which at $1200, sold above what I could afford, as 25% buyer's commission plus shipping needed to be added to the hammer price. The miniature is by John Wood Dodge.

I was keen on buying it as the sitter Mr W M Eastman, is the husband of Mrs Eliza M Eastman, showing here, who is already part of this collection, see Dodge, John Wood - portrait of Mrs E M Eastman Both miniatures being signed by Dodge and both dated Sept 30, 1836.

I had hoped to be able to reunite the husband and wife to share a future together, but alas it was not to be the case.

Two Additions

An American Addition and a British Addition

The first addition is rather special.

This American miniature portrait on ivory dating from 1820 is special on several counts.

Firstly, it was painted by an early 19C female artist in the United States, at a time when female artists were very much in the minority.

Secondly it is clearly identified as a self portrait.

In the United States, the Goodridge sisters are the only other pre 1880 female miniature painters I am aware of, who have recorded examples of self-portraits.

And thirdly, it has now been reunited with another self portrait by the same artist which was acquired five years ago and can be seen in the combined image.

This seems an amazing coincidence, but the similarities can be clearly seen and both portraits carry full inscriptions.

The second self portrait, dating from 1838, even contains a sachet the artist has included of her hair, which must be almost unique.

I have commented elsewhere that self-portraits are to me, one of the most interesting types of miniature portraits, as they give a view into the character of the artist.

As one can imagine, it was quite an exciting moment to reunite the two self portraits, which were painted about 18 years apart.

The artist and sitter is Meriva Carpenter (28 April 1802 - 24 July, 1887).

More about the two portraits, including the inscriptions, can be seen at Carpenter, Meriva - portrait of self and at Carpenter, Meriva - portrait of self where there are also miniature portrait images of her parents

The second miniature portrait is of an unknown British lady by M Bryant, an apparently unrecorded, but talented artist. The rear of the frame is dated March 1908.

More about the portrait can be seen at Bryant, M - portrait of a lady

November - "Blog following" and the market place

Blog Following
Regular visitors may notice an extra widget on the right hand side of the Home page titled Followers. This is a new Blogger feature which apparently makes it easier for potential regular readers to keep in touch with blog updates. I am not yet familiar with it, but for those who are interested, here is the Blogger section which explains it.

What is Following?

Do you have a favorite blog and want to let the author and readers know that you are a fan? Well now you can do that and more with the Blogger Following feature! You can even keep track of the blogs you follow via your Reading List on the Blogger dashboard.

How do I become a Follower of a blog?

There are several ways to become a follower of a blog. One of the easiest ways is to visit a blog that has added the Following widget and click on the "Follow this Blog" link under the "Followers" widget:

You'll then see a popup window with the options to either follow publicly or anonymously:

Select how you'd like to follow the blog, then click the orange "Follow" button. It is that simple, you are now a follower of the blog! If you elected to follow the blog publicly, your profile picture will be displayed on the blog with a link to your Blogger profile (Note: The widget may not show all followers of the blog. If this is the case all followers will be linked from the widget). When you become a follower of a blog, the blog will also be added to your Reading List on your Blogger dashboard. Additionally, you can become a follower of any blog or URL (even if the blog doesn't have the Followers widget) by adding the blog to your Reading List on the dashboard.

The Market Place

When commenting in the previous post about George Washington miniatures, I mentioned the genuine miniature of him which sold for a hammer price of $260,000, or say about $300,000 including buyer's commission.

A number of other interesting miniatures have recently sold in America for much lesser prices. They include a pair sold by Cowans Auction for $1500 which were painted by Carl Weindel and described as "Pair of Identified Miniatures by Carl Weinedel, Pennsylvania, ca 1814, watercolor on paper, one signed. Sitters are identified in writing on verso as John C. Lessig (a War of 1812 soldier) and Eliza Dentzler, Mrs. John C. Lessig; each 3.25" high x 2.50" wide. Accompanying the miniatures is the Lessig Family provenance, images and a brief history of the sitters from the family bible.

Carl Weinedel(1795-1845) was known for his portraits, most often in miniature. He was born in Germany and immigrated to the U.S. about 1821. Advertisements for him appeared in Richmond Va., but in 1834 he was in NYC until his death in 1845."

An unusual auction offering was a pair of Japanese miniature portraits sold by Burchard Galleries for $500. Knotty Pine Auctions sold a typical James Sanford Ellsworth miniature for $2200.

Apart from the George Washington miniature, Skinners sold a number of other miniatures by a range of artists, as well as a number which were unattributed.

The more interesting included this portrait miniature of Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart, who was the widow of Martha Washington's son, John Parke Custus by her first marriage to Daniel Parke Custus.

This miniature is a good example of an instance where the importance of the sitter outweighed the crack that can be seen on the left hand side and also the lack of an attribution to a specific artist. It sold for $6000.

Skinners other sales included a British miniature of two children by John Goddard for $1400; a portrait miniature of a Young Woman, attributed to Clarissa Peters Russell (American, 1809-1854) for $1,100; a portrait miniature of a gentleman, attributed to William Verstille, (American, 1757-1803) for $1200; and a portrait miniature of a young man attributed to Mary Way (New London Connecticut, 1769-1833) for $2100.

The Russell and the Way sold for well below their pre-sale estimates, probably as the sale date of November 2, was in the middle of the financial crisis.

Several other unattributed miniatures sold cheaply at Skinners, although the one showing on left hand, of Horace Trowbridge Wildman, September 29, 1829, done when he was 21 years old, sold for $1200 at its top estimate. To me it looks as if it is by Nathaniel Rogers, which explain the greater interest.

A most unusual miniature was sold by a dealer for GBP850. It is only the second British miniature portrait painted prior to 1850 I have seen painted on a porcelain plaque. The other example being of Mrs Samuel Keys (wearing a pink bonnet) by Michael Keen which is in this collection, see Kean, Michael - portrait of Mrs Samuel Keys

Very appealing, it was described as "William Corden the elder (British 1797-1867); a superbly painted portrait miniature of Harriet Bainbrigge; enamel on a J Rose & Co, Coalport porcelain plaque; inscribed to the reverse: Harriet Bainbrigge / Married to Lieut Coll Rbt Dale Dev(on) 1811 / Painted by Wm Corden Oct 1822”; incised Coalport marks; in a glazed, period gilt composition frame; 14 x 12cm sight size."


Miniatures of George Washington - fake and genuine.

George Washington - More Miniature Portraits

Regularly I seem to need to comment on fake miniature portraits of George Washington.

Normally they are fakes, and here are several different miniatures of George Washington offered for sale at auction recently.

Readers are invited to pause here for a moment, determine which one you think is genuine, and estimate how much it sold for!

Top Right
Already commented on last month is the one at the top right, but it is interesting to compare it with the others.

For my previous detailed comments, see The 2008 Financial Crisis and the Art Market - part 3

There I mentioned it was described by the vendor as; "A Fabulous American Miniature Oil Portrait Of General George Washington, done in the manner of Gilbert Stuart. This is actually a mirror image of the portrait that you see on the Dollar Bill. It was done about 1780-1800, and is in good overall condition. There is a mark in the paint on the left side, just off his shoulder, and the Ivory has a Hairline, hence the old paper backing to strengthen it."

And; "This is one of the finest miniatures of Washington known. It is unframed, and ready for your period frame. It measures about 3" x 4". This is guaranteed to be an old period portrait of George Washington, the paper backing is an old land deed."

Rather than being painted in 1780 - 1800 as claimed, it is a fake which most likely dates from around 1900 - 1920. With old documents attached to the rear to give a false idea of its age. After 25 bids it sold for $565, which is a bit over the top, but not too bad.

Top Left
The top left one is for sale by Green Valley Auctions of Mt Crawford Va. on November 15, together with another Washington portrait and they have a combined estimate of $400-$600.

The lot is described as; "GEORGE WASHINGTON MINIATURE PORTRAIT, on ivory, an oval image of a young Washington, illegible signature along the right edge, secured in a metal liner. Along with a plaster bas-relief profile sculpture of Washington signed Noble, and inscribed on frame reverse "To Mr. & Mrs. F.B. Washington, With kindest regards of the sculpture, W. Clark Noble 1935". 19th and 20th centuries. 3 1/2" x 2 3/4" and 9 1/2" x 9 3/4" "

I think this is quite a fair description. There is no claim of great age, nor an attribution. Thus it is a normal "Buyer Beware" situation. [Later, this actually sold for $550, which is not too bad.]

Middle Right
The lower right miniature is being offered for auction by Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Texas on November 20. This is the second time they have offered it as genuine.

It has an estimate of $15,000 - $20,000 and is described as " WALTER ROBERTSON (Irish/American, 1750-1801) George Washington, late 18th century Watercolor on ivory 3-1/2 x 2-3/4 inches (8.9 x 7.0 cm) signed center right: Stuart.

Robertson was a well-known miniaturist in Dublin before emigrating to New York in 1793. Gilbert Stuart and Robertson, who had become great friends in Dublin, agreed that Robertson, in efforts to help his career, would copy Stuart's finished portraits. This miniature is a slightly different version than Stuart had previously painted. Robertson depicts Washington with a more vivid expression, lighter background, elaborate texture in his coat and enhanced color in his vest.

In my opinion this is a fake and the description is misleading. I hope that no bidders are fooled by the description. It is worth no more than $500 as a maximum. [Later, this appeared to be unsold, so buyers obviously realised it was wrong.]

Middle Left
Also offered by Heritage Auctions on November 20, being the second time they have offered it at auction as genuine, is this miniature described as; WALTER ROBERTSON (Irish/American, 1750-1801) George Washington, late 18th century Watercolor on ivory 6 x 5 inches (15.2 x 12.7 cm) Signed lower left: W. Robertson

In this portrait, Robertson memorializes George Washington as a general. Rather than drawing his inspiration for this portrait of Washington from Gilbert Stuart's full-length portrait of the man in civilian dress, Robertson based this likeness upon Charles Wilson Peale's (1741-1827) likeness of Washington in formal dress as the leader of the Continental troops.

It is offered at an opening bid of $30,000 and an estimate of $60,000 - $80,000. Unfortunately, it is another fake which was previously offered for sale some months ago. Thus I hope no bidders rely on the auction description. [Later, this appeared to be unsold, so buyers obviously realised it was wrong.]

Bottom Left
A visitor to this site sent me images of this pair of Martha and George Washington miniatures, asking for my comments as they were intending to sell the pair. The owner said they appeared to be signed "J Rimmige".

I was able to tell the owner they were early 20C decorative copies, with the signature aimed at a casual buyer who might think they were by John Ramage. I told the owner that I thought on eBay the pair might sell for $300-$500.

I then saw a week or so later that they had sold on eBay for $293.87, so was reassured to find that the market place had agreed with my estimate!

Bottom Right
The bottom right miniature was sold by Skinners Auctions, of Boston on November 2. The reverse of the miniature is also shown here. It had an estimate of $20,000 - $30,000 and had a very full description, which reads as; "Portrait Miniature of George Washington, Robert Field, (American, born in England c. 1769-1819), signed and dated "RF 1801" l.r. Watercolor on ivory, c. 1801, oval bust-length portrait, 2 3/4 x 2 1/4 in., encased in oval gilt brass locket, the reverse with a woven lock of George Washington's hair overlaid with "GW" cipher in gilt foil, further housed in an oval red leather hinged case. Condition: Very good.

Note: Robert Field, a portrait painter, miniature painter and engraver enjoyed success in his time, but fell into relative and undeserving obscurity following his early death in 1819, according to Field scholar Harry Piers. Born in England in 1769, Field spent time in Nova Scotia, and throughout the American northeast, painting all manner of important local and national figures: judges, generals, merchants, and politicians. In all he painted hundreds of portraits and was one of the four most highly sought American miniaturists in his time. It is no wonder, that being the case, that Martha Washington herself commissioned Field in 1800 to paint a group of miniature as mementoes for friends and family, meant to commemorate the revered General and President on the one-year anniversary of his death.

As Piers tells us, two groups of miniatures of George Washington were produced by Field at Martha's request in late 1800, the first group showing him in civilian dress, the second as general in full uniform. While the first group is comprised of at least six distinct examples given to friends and confidants, the second as far as is known consists of only two (including the present lot), which went to the two daughters of Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart and her second husband David Stuart. Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart was the widow of Martha Washington's only son from her first marriage, John Parke Custis. The present lot has been passed through the family since its completion.

An 1882 mention exists that puts Robert Field at Mount Vernon in 1798, and though the dated miniatures are all inscribed either 1800 or 1801, the chance exists, according to that author, that the appearance of Washington in the present lot is based at least in part on a life study by Field himself ("Pictures of Washington: Some Original Portraits of Our First President," New York Times, March 19, 1882). However, Piers thinks it is more likely that, for his miniatures of Washington, Field used existing originals to create a composite portrait: "one of the [Gilbert] Stuart paintings of 1795 in the Vaughan type, for the portraits in civilian dress; and for those in uniform, Field's miniature rendering of the same original was the basis for the head, while one of Walter Robertson's miniatures of 1794àwas the guide for the coat and the composition as a whole" (Piers, p. 158). By contemporary accounts, the Field miniatures were hailed as more "agreeable" likenesses than the Vaughan type Stuarts "by improving the expression, thus freeing it from the original's fault - an unnecessarily severe countenance." (Piers, p. 160) And regarding the overall nature of the present lot, in Piers's opinion, "the uniform, clouded background, and general composition are improved renderings of one of the miniatures by Walter Robinson" (Piers, p. 166).

Field framed and presented his miniatures relatively consistently, according to Piers, who of course had seen many of them. To wit, they are "tastefully mounted in plain, narrow, oval gold cases with an immovable suspension rings and the back of the case often contains a plaited lock of the sitters hair, sometimes ornamented with à a gold monogram" (Piers, 146).

Provenance: The present lot was presented by Martha Washington to Sarah "Sally" Stuart, second born of the two daughters of Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart (those two also being step-granddaughters of Martha Washington). From Sally, the miniature was intended to go to William Eugene Webster, Sally's nephew, but Webster was killed in the Civil War and the miniature went instead to Sally's great-niece Rosalie Eugenia Stuart. Rosalie willed the miniature to her son, Daniel, and Daniel willed it to his nephew Robert, the consignor.

Line of Descent: Sarah "Sally" Waite nee Stuart, 1801, to great niece Rosalie Eugenia Stuart, then to son Daniel after 1929, to Robert, his nephew, after 1975."

As was no doubt picked by all readers, this miniature is the only genuine George Washington miniature portrait in the above group.

The last genuine George Washington miniature offered for sale at auction, which was an enamel by William Russell Birch, sold about three years ago for a little over $100,000. Another genuine miniature of George Washington by John Ramage was sold in 2001. It holds the record for any miniature portrait at $1,200,000.

Thus, I felt the pre-sale estimate was rather low at $20,000 - $30,000 and expected it to reach about $100,000. In the event it did even better than that and achieved a hammer price of $260,000.

It will be interesting to hear who purchased it. I do not know who won the auction, but would not be surprised if it ended up at the Cincinnati Art Museum, where there is already a genuine miniature of George Washington painted by Walter Robertson. [Three weeks later it was revealed that Yale University Art Library was the purchaser, thus reuniting the portrait with another miniature portrait by Field, one of Martha Washington. Yale paid $303,000 including buyer's commission, so it is still possible CAM interests were the under bidder.]
[Later - for an identical version sold more recently for a similar price, see February - Market place and addition]

The 2008 Financial Crisis - part 4
Based upon that auction price, one could well ask; "What financial crisis?"

With apologies to staunch Republicans and to Emmerson, the cartoonist for my local paper, here is his cartoon on the morning after the election.

One has to retain a sense of humor, despite these adverse times, and so I was also quietly amused by the following reference in the satirical newspaper "Onion".

"Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job - African-American man Barack Obama, 47, was given the least desirable job in the entire country .... As part of his duties, the black man will have to spend four to eight years cleaning up the messes other people left behind."

The End of the Golden Summer
On a more serious note here are some personal thoughts about the financial crisis, which I believe is not likely to markedly improve in the next 12 months and may get worse before it gets better.

I am a "baby boomer" and feel I must share the overall blame for the financial crisis, along with everyone else in the "baby boomer" generation. As a generation we have been too focussed on consumption and instead should have had a more balanced view, with a greater thought for future pressures.

My parents were born before the Russian Revolution, lived through World War I, the 1920's General Strike in England, the Great Depression, and World War II. My father had to leave school at age 15 and later fought overseas for six years, where he was unable to prevent my mother being bombed in London.

Thus most of their life was spent facing adversity, but they did it cheerfully as they were looking to to make the world a better place for their children. They were unable to even start saving until after World War II, when they were already in their late 30's. As evidence of their attitude, I even remember my mother saying shortly before she died, that she "had always considered herself as part of the lucky generation".

In contrast, until now baby boomers have not had to face adversity as a generation. Rather than "adversity", "consumption" has increasingly been the magic word since 1950.

Most Western democracies have been influenced by United States consumption via TV and films and thus, by following the leader, their economies have also had a consumption bias.

Great technological advances have been made since world War II, but the Western democracies have been a little too biased towards consumption. For short terms that did not matter, but the imbalance has continually grown until consumption is now at an unsustainable level.

Other Western economies, which are all less economically powerful than the United States, have gradually fallen by the wayside. They have been forced to react to domestic pressures from excess consumption in their own economies and take drastic structural actions at varying times, such as introducing VAT taxes.

The United States has avoided restructuring until now, due to its dominant economic power and, more recently, its ability to borrow from overseas to continue to fund its consumption.

Since before 1900 the United States has regarded itself as the bastion of Capitalism. Ironically, I feel it is a feature in the American economy which is closer to Socialism, which has now acted as the straw that broke the camel's back and so has brought the country to its economic knees.

That Socialistic feature being "affordable housing" encouraged with the best of motives, but in the wrong manner. Housing has been financed on loans based on interest rates that were set too low, for too long, by the Federal Reserve Bank. Many loans are non-recourse, and funded by unlimited, Government backed, mortgage finance.

That combination has led to a housing bubble, with an abdication of risk responsibility by home owners, home builders, developers, financiers, and banks.

With the bursting of the bubble, the crisis has struck hard and we are seeing huge job losses, corporate failures, and tremendous sums of cash thrown at many problems. Now there are calls for more cash for the auto industry, for more stimulus packages, but still with little apparent discussion about long term restructuring.

Thus, as a lone voice, here are some personal thoughts on restructuring. In my mind long term restructuring is now more important than the current crisis, which will run its course no matter what action is taken.

Somewhat ironically, the crisis now provides an opportunity when the whole population is listening and waiting for its leadership to speak. It is therefore timely to gain bi-partisan acceptance for some long term restructuring of the United States economy.

Thus, rather than commenting on the short term measures, where most people are looking, here is a five point long term plan that should be incorporated into a stimulus package.

The points are major. They are aimed avoiding a repeat of the current problems and getting a better balance in the United States economy for future generations.

A Five Point Plan
Point 1 The US Government should announce that from January 1, 2010 Fannie and Freddie will no longer provide government backed mortgage finance, with their existing portfolios being run off over time.

Reason - There is no long term economic reason for government to provide this funding. Under Capitalism the market will find a way to service this market. Traditional banks and other lenders will assess the risks, then increase their home mortgage lending. They will charge sufficient for the risk. Non-recourse loans will tend to disappear. The market will become much more fragmented and less risky.

Point 2 The Government should institute an energy levy of say, $20 per barrel of oil, both locally produced and imported, and an equivalent tax calculation for natural gas.

Reason - To provide funding for energy research and investment, and to encourage the population to use more efficient use of energy, whether for heating, or for more fuel efficient means of transport, cars, planes, buses, trains, or feet. Adding $20 to the current $60 per barrel, this would still be some $65 less than the peak price of $147 reached earlier this year. While that peak is still fresh in consumer's minds now is the ideal time to reinforce it.

Point 3 The Government should institute a 10% sales tax across the board on everything except financial transactions as many countries have with VAT or similar taxes. The VAT should be made overall fiscally neutral, by increasing benefits or lowering taxes for "95%" of the population.

Reason - The tax would help discourage wasteful consumption. Net savers would benefit and lavish spenders would be penalised. Such a tax is much simpler and more equitable if it applies to everything. In addition, much of the underground economy and illegal immigrants would be unable to avoid paying such a tax. Also, foreign tourists who visit the country would start paying a federal tax for the transport and other systems they use. Thus the tax would generate new sources of revenue.

Point 4 The auto industry and any other distressed industries should be encouraged by government to adopt the same strategy as was proposed at one stage for distressed banks i.e. each be divided into good bank/bad bank, or here into good auto company/bad auto company.

Reason - Parts of GM, Ford, and Chrysler must be profitable. If so, these would be put into the "good auto" companies and continue to trade. Being profitable, they would attract investors and allow new car buyers to have appropriate new vehicle warranties. The "bad auto" companies would be run as liquidations until their operations were completely closed down. The process has to be seen to be fair to other car manufacturers.

Point 5 - The Government should commence a "United States Sovereign Fund" for investments and to help provide for future welfare requirements for the ageing population. In the meantime, the fund would invest nationally and internationally, on commercial terms, in bonds, equities, and major infrastructure requirements, for example in nuclear power plants.

Reason - Welfare costs will need to be met for many people in the future. Funds released from the run down of Fannie and Freddie should be used as part of the fund, as would TARP assets, and other assets such as the AIG stake. It would also manage the energy tax receipts from Point 1.

I do not envy Barack Obama his task. Today I watched his first press conference since the election result and did feel he handled it well.

Given the various components of the crisis, including; jobs, credit, equities, autos, wars, and the huge budget deficit he has little room to move, and few assets to offer.

As he is a student of history, he may well do to repeat the words of Sir Winston Churchill in Britain's darkest hours of World War II; "All I can offer you is blood, tears, toil, and sweat".


November - Art of Mourning

For some time I have been meaning to write a little about mourning portraits and add several mourning items which have been in a drawer for some time.

However, I have come recently across an excellent website devoted to the subject on Mourning Art which covers the subject far better than I can. It contains a lot of related material including some miniature portraits.

Thus visitors are recommended to visit: Mourning Jewellery (jewelery) resource, sentimental, memorial ...

I have also included the website as a permanent Gallery Link on my home page as Art of Mourning.

Complementing that website are several items from this collection which now appear here.

The first one is 40mm high and is engraved on the reverse "E Noble" and "R N" on the pedestal on the front.

Secondly, is another mourning piece, 40mm in diameter, again with a lady by a funerary urn.

The hair-back includes gold initials "A B". The angel at the top on the front is carrying a banner reading "L'amitie".

Thirdly, is a tiny mourning miniature, only 25mm high. It is of a girl with an open cage and a bird. The reverse is engraved "M H Aged 14", probably her age at her death.

From the old attachments at the side, it was probably originally a finger ring, but has been converted into a pendant.

It is most likely British, but may be American in origin, as there are similar examples on page 91 of the book "Love and Loss" by Robin Jaffee Frank and the frame has a somewhat similar scalloped interior edge to miniature portraits by John Ramage and William Verstille.

After some helpful comments from a kind visitor, and as the girl seems to have died aged 14, a tentative interpretation of the symboism may be possible.

In that, perhaps the bird and the open cage are intended to imply that death is releasing the girl's soul from her earthly constraints and troubles, perhaps even from a fatal illness, and thus allowing her soul to soar to reach and enjoy the endless freedom of heaven.

Fourthly, is a separated backing in an unrelated German brass frame, which originally would have come from the reverse of a miniature portrait.

It is 50mm high and shows a lady sitting by a funerary urn.

Fifthly, is a horn and silver snuff box, 60mm high, with a classical lady tending a fire on a pedestal.

The tablet to the right being inscribed "Honor et Amacitia" and "N H".

Painted by Johann Adamek (1776-1840) an Austrian artist, is a miniature portrait of an unknown man with a most unusual rear panel.

On a blue ground, and next to a pedestal with some red and black paint loss at the bottom, there is a figure in relief made of what appears to be solid gold.

The gold figure is either carved or cast, but I am not sure which. I have never seen another similar example.

Subsequently a kind visitor has suggested that the figure was cut from a thin gold sheet and repouseed (i.e. punched from the back to raise the front). They doubt it was cast; perhaps it could have been something stamped from a mold, but given the age of this, it was probably all done by hand.

Originating from Germany, is a round miniature portrait, probably coming from the top of a box, of a mourning scene by an unknown German artist.

The lady is leaning on a tombstone and an anchor, which suggests her lover has been lost at sea.

There is an inscription in German on the tombstone that is indistinct, but appears to read "Wie iel.lsh/werf ...../ivis .or./wv kring/Thrane m/fliessen.ob/16 dec 1815".

It has been suggested that the latter part may actually read "Wo keine Traenen fliessen", which translates as "where no tears are shed".

Another form of mourning miniature which is quite uncommon, is an actual post-mortem portrait of the deceased.

Here is a post-mortem miniature of a young child laying in her bed. It would have been painted immediately after the child died.

It is by a French artist, Jean Decourcelle (1791-1857) and is dated 1822. The reverse shows the artist's trade label.

Another format for mourning miniatures, was to show the deceased with clouds around their heads, i.e. as having ascended to heaven.

There are several of this nature in the collection and I have sorted out some examples.

Most of them are by unknown artists.

The group of four are by a French artist and imply the wife and three children have all died. That may have occurred during the cholera epidemic of the 19C when thousands died from the disease.

The girl in black is a slightly different format of mourning portrait and she may be mourning a parent. It is probably French.

She is standing in a churchyard, next to an urn on a pedestal. Although it is hard to see in the photo here, she is holding a dying flower and when looked at closely, petals can be seen falling from the flower towards the ground.

The baby in the oval frame is probably by John Carlin, an American artist.

The girl in the oval frame with a blue background is believed to be Lucy Armstrong of Portsmouth, NH.

The man is signed by the French artist "Pouell".

136, 212, 561, 721, 964, 1011, 1108, 1359.
407, 751, 637, 944, 995.