January - Miscellany

Painting Miniatures in Philadelphia in 1801

Shown here is an advertisement that appears in an early newspaper from Philadelphia, which is part of this collection. It is "Poulson's American Daily Advertiser" for Saturday, Jan 10, 1801 and the advertisement shown was repeated in the next issue dated Monday, Jan 12, 1801. Unfortunately, the identity of the artist is not known, but it may be possible to track him down via a street directory.

The advertisement is a little difficult to follow, but reads;
To the Ladies,
Ladies, As it is under the warm and effulgent rays of your powerfully creative influence that all the arts and especially the FINE ARTS, have received their birth and acquired their present degree of perfection, it is reasonable to expect that considering them as your darling off-springs, you will continue to feel for them that tenderness and interest without which they must certainly die away; they have a natural and indisputable claim to your immediate protection; and among them, that of MINIATURE PAINTING being entirely devoted to you, has an exclusive right to your fostering solicitude.
Therefore, you will forgive the freedom of an artist in that line, to offer you his humble services. He takes short, few, and easy sittings; his price is moderate, and he waives it occasionally upon particular considerations, and he always warrants the likeness. If these terms are agreeable to you, he will punctually attend and wait for you, or the gentlemen you may send, at the time you or they will please to proscribe; at his rooms at No 118 Race or Sassafras Street.
In the meantime, he subscribes himself with the most profound respect, Ladies, Your very humble and obedient servant, The Painter."

One wonders what were the occasions and "particular considerations" when he waived his fees!

Illuminated Miniatures

One thing I have not commented on is the origins of miniature portraits, which date back to the illuminated religious works from medieval times when they were embellished with small portraits of saints and other characters. Single pages do come onto the market, but are usually quite expensive.

It may be surprising to know that some artists still practise the technique. One such artist is Dominique Oberhauser who has a website and one example of her work is shown here.

More examples of her work can be seen at LLUMINATED MINIATURES by Dominique Oberhauser - Home

It is nice to know that the techniques are being perpetuated.

Displaying Miniatures

As most miniature portraits are watercolor on ivory, they are very susceptible to fading, heat, and moisture.

I have been to the Victoria and Albert Museum display once. The display techniques may have changed since then, but to view the miniatures required passing through a "light-lock" instead of an air-lock! This enabled one's eyes to adjust to the very dim lighting in the actual gallery.

Recently, I came across a more detailed reference to the lighting methods used at the National Museum in Warsaw, Poland. The Museum has 1100 miniatures and this frame of miniatures shows a section of those on display. More details can be found at spie.org/x8862.xml?pf=true&highlight=x2408 Essentially, the light source is by fibre optics, with bundles of fibre-optics at the top and bottom of the case.

I have to concede it is all a bit more upmarket than all my shoe-boxes of miniatures, but at least I can claim visitors from around the world can see this collection via the blog and read the research notes!

Market Place

Recently, this stunning 17C Dutch family group was auctioned by Pook and Pook.

The estimate was $4500/$6500 but it sold for a hammer price of $11,000.

At first glance that may seem expensive, but when one considers that there are eight 17C miniatures for the price of one, I think it was a real bargain, although well beyond my pocket. No doubt it will next appear in a museum collection, my guess would be the Cincinnati Art Museum!

The group is contained within a single locket, with hinged leaves. It must be almost unique and the condition looks to be perfect.

Interesting American sales included this miniature of an elderly seated lady in a bonnet, by James Sandford Ellsworth. Offered by Knotty Pine Auctions, it had a hammer price of $1200, compared to a pre-sale estimate of $1000/$2000.

There have been a number of miniatures by Ellsworth offered over the past year and, as a consequence, prices for his work seem to have drifted down a little from what seemed to be overly high prices, compared to other miniaturists of the early 19C.

Auctioned by Brunk Auctions, was this oval miniature said to be a portrait of Freeman Woods (1765-1834) a silversmith from North Carolina.

The miniature was attributed by the auctioneer to Ezra Ames of New York, but it does not really look like his work, although it must be by one of the better artists of the period. The estimate was $3000/$6000 and the hammer price matched the top estimate.

Presumably based upon the belief that the sitter was Freeman Woods, but as illustrated below, there is a need to do one's own research and not just rely on an auction description.

A knowledgeable visitor has commented on this miniature as follows: "The clothing dates the miniature to c.1845-50. This is not only many years after Ames died (1836) but also many years after the death of the supposed goldsmith sitter. It's pretty clear that the price was based on the sitter and not the artist. One can understand a silver collector paying a hefty premium for an image of an important silversmith, but even a little research would show that the attribution is wrong. Even if the miniature had been done about 1830, the sitter would still be way too young."

Jenack Auctions of Chester, NY sold this revival miniature dated 1906 by Edward Fesser, for a hammer price of $475, compared to an estimate of $300/$500.

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