March - JH Brown, Books, and More on Museums

John Henry Brown
Recently a visitor sent me a photocopy of a 1860 miniature portrait by John Henry Brown.

It is the top one on the right of Mary Destouet and is inscribed as painted from a daguerreotype.

I have added the portrait into the Guest Gallery with some information I have been able to find out about the Destouet family.

There is also a portrait in the Guest Gallery of Sartain Destouet, her husband who had emigrated from France.

For more about the portraits see View but it is very interesting to compare the portrait and the sitter's dress with the portrait of Maria Charlotte Gouverneur Cadwalader shown here, but which is in this collection with more details at View

This Cadwalader miniature was also painted in 1860, but the two ladies are not related.

The two dresses only differ in the detail of the lace, and even the way their lace bonnets hang on their shoulders is the same.

One of the records I managed to source from an American museum was a list of the portraits which John Henry Brown painted in 1860. There were 20 in total, number 9 was the Maria Cadwalader portrait, number 16 was Abraham Lincoln, and number 17 was Mary Destouet.

As mentioned above, JHB records this latter miniature was copied from a daguerreotype, which was quite common for him, with half of the miniatures he apinted in 1860 being such copies.

As the dresses are so similar, I am inclined to think the Destouet dageuerreotype showed Mary Destouet wearing clothes several years old and thus unfashionable in 1860. Therefore to update the miniature for his client, John Henry Brown copied the dress from the Cadwalader miniature.

It would be interesting to see other portraits from his 1860 list and see how the sitters were dressed.

While on the subject of John Henry Brown, this unattributed miniature of a lady was auctioned by Cottone Auctions this month.

It went well above my bid and sold for a hammer price of $2600 compared to an estimate of $400/$600.

Although it may look a bit like a John Wood Dodge, to me it looks more like a John Henry Brown.

Note the similar frame, when compared with the two above examples.


Two books have been acquired for the reference library this month.

The oldest is the 1865 catalogue of a "Special Exhibition of Portrait Miniatures on Loan at the South Kensington Museum - June 1865".

Unfortunately, there are no pictures in the Catalogue, but this must be the greatest exhibition of miniatures ever. There were 3081 loaned miniatures on display and by definition, all were painted prior to 1865.

The exhibition included miniatures by or attributed to the following artists; H Bone 22 miniatures, S Cooper 63, R Cosway 61, N Hilliard 27, J Hoskins 20, I Oliver 29, P Oliver 21, J Petitot 51, J Smart 25, and C Zincke 57 amongst many others.

The second book is written in French and was published last year.

It is by Nicole Garnier-Pelle, Nathalie Lemoine-Bouchard and Bernd Pappe and illustrates in colour 345 miniatures from the Royal Houses of France and other countries in Europe which are held at the Conde Museum at Chantilly in France.

Reference books like this are very useful, even for collectors like me, who cannot speak French, as the illustrations are excellent for training one's eye, making comparisons of sitters, and assessing possible attributions to artists.

Bernd Pappe has authored several excellent books in the Bibliography which is included in the Background of this collection. He is currently working on another volume about the Tansey Collection.

Nathalie Lemoine-Bouchard has also written another book in the Bibliography and very soon in 2008 Nathalie is publishing a Dictionary of French Miniature Painters on Ivory up to 1850. This will be another "must have reference" book.

More on Museums

The 1865 exhibition referred to above, illustrates a point I was trying to make in my recent February 2008 comments about 21C museums which can be seen at View

That was that in earlier times museums were prepared to assemble and exhibit items owned by private collectors which would otherwise never be seen by the the general public.

As I said, I believe museums in the 21C should revive this practice as a means of better informing the public. This can be done by arranging comprehensive exhibitions of privately owned items from within the museum's own catchment area and so adding to the community knowledge base.

My belief is that museums which concentrate on 21C displays of what may loosely be called contemporary art with a view to competing with theme park entertainment, are sacrificing their heritage and they risk disappearing down a long Alice in Wonderland corridor ending only in smoke and mirrors.

There are some signs of museums paying more attention to visitors, see the March 2008 NY Times report Museums Refine the Art of Listening - New York Times which echoes my February point about museums facing competition; "they’re competing for those customers with local shopping malls, movie theaters, even grocery stores."

The NY Times report also makes the following comment; "When the Museum of Modern Art opened its expanded $450 million home on West 53rd Street three years ago, the ticket desk began compiling the ZIP code or country of origin of every visitor, putting the information in a database. And at the Detroit Institute of Arts, officials recently discovered that the average visitor spends only four or five minutes in any gallery, rather than the 20 minutes the officials had expected. Only 7 percent bothered to read the wall plaques."

I would have to say, to record ZIP codes sounds a pretty half-hearted means of gathering useful data, and the 20 minutes sounds like a wild guess of how long a visitor would spend in a gallery.

As somewhat of a cynic I have the feeling that many museum staff will pay only lip service to data collection and will be more concerned to invent statistics (as we know; there are lies, damned lies, and statistics) to justify a focus on their contemporary art "pet projects", which do not add to a community's knowledge base, but are chosen for display in an effort to outdo competing museums which are holding other "funky" exhibitions.

Also from the same NY Times article; "A year and a half ago, the (MFA Boston) museum hired the marketing firm J.D. Power & Associates to try to understand what visitors want. “We found out that the No. 1 thing that gets people to the museum is our collection.” "

The MFA sounds surprised at this conclusion!!

They should not be surprised. The general public knows there are many commercial art galleries exhibiting contemporary art, as well as many interactive theme parks for children, but few places where one can see a museum collection.

Therefore, from my personal soap box, I stress the opinion: Museums should not sacrifice their cultural heritage on the altar of funky contemporary art and interactive entertainment for children.

Instead, they should stick to their established skills, while working with private collectors and attracting Internet visitors. Potential Internet visitors are an enormous and untapped customer base.

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