August - Fake miniatures, condition issues, and the market place

Fakes and decorative miniatures
I continue to get emails from visitors asking about decorative miniatures.

Their miniatures often depict familiar sitters from the attached group, who include; Anna Hillmayer, Nannette Kaula, Katharina Botzaris, Lola Montez, Lady Jane Ellenborough, Marie Kronprinzessin von Bayern, and Auguste Strobl. There are also often similar miniatures of Marie Antoinette, Napoleon and many others.

I therefore thought it might be helpful to bring three other key links on the subject from this website together for easy reference.

Thus follow these three links for more information on fakes and decorative miniatures:-
Copy, Fake, and Decorative Miniatures
April - Fakes and decorative miniatures
July Mailbag - Researching sitters and decorative miniatures

Fakes continue to be offered on eBay and shown here are a pair of miniatures, which are quite dangerous fakes and were recently offeredas "Antique Art Lemuel Arnold Nellie Custis by P. Hodgkins".

In bold type, the seller claimed "you are bidding on a pair of lovely vintage watercolors that were painted by Patty Hodgkins (1801-1900)".

But in the "small print" there was the comment "Date of Creation: 1900-1949", which is after the death date of 1900 given for Patty Hogkins, so the seller protected their own position in the event of a dispute.

However buyers needed to be careful as there is an old Maine Antique Digest article from 1997 by Rob Hoffman on the Internet, which is still relevant and discusses the origin and history of these "Borghese" fakes, see Borghese Watercolors Not Antique: Maine Antique Digest (Jan '97)

In his article, Rob Hoffman mentioned the following characteristics of the fakes:

"Borghese's folk art watercolors are intriguing in their charm and somewhat-credible flavor but are otherwise relatively easy to identify. Based on examination of several specimens, here are the salient features:

1. Borghese watercolors were painted on a thin matte board, smooth on the front and dimpled on the back. This material shouldn't be mistaken for an antique substance but ought to be examined from the back to be positively identified.

2. The appearance of age was faked in some cases by the use of a light amber wash on the background area of the composition. This produced a mottled and cloud-like appearance that is inconsistent with authentic aging.

3. The choice of colors was usually a little bit wacky. For instance, in the pictured example the woman's dress is rendered with a shade of purple that I've never seen on an authentic antique.

4. Borghese's original frames were modern but antiqued gold-leaf over simple gesso wood moldings."

As Rob also comments: "So, our final advice has an old familiar ring. Always insist on getting a written guarantee on all purchases. If you're buying at auction, read the conditions of sale carefully."

Condition problems with miniature portraits
Another recent question was about condition problems with miniatures. I commented on this last year, but as the reference may be hard to find, here is the link
October 2007 - Miniatures, Condition, and Damage

I tend to think miniature portraits are often unfairly penalised for minor condition problems. Furniture items of similar periods usually have many obvious marks of age and handling, called patina, which "Antiques Roadshow" experts, like to see as evidence of the genuine age of the piece.

The Market Place

Due to the summer break, there have been few items of American miniature portrait interest sold at auction in the past month or so.

They included, what I think is an opalotype on glass, probably by John Henry Brown which seemed very cheap at $68.

Brown apparently signed all his miniature portraits on ivory, but rarely signed his opalotypes which were developed on milk glass and then hand colored.

However, Neal's Auctions had several American items with more interesting prices.

Several of the lots they offered at their live auction are shown here.

Perhaps the best buy was a miniature of an old lady in a white bonnet titled, "Portrait of Catherine Worthington Fowler, wife of Reuben Rose Fowler" by the Canadian artist, Lily V Ryan (nee Klein) who was active around 1900, which sold for a hammer price of $275, compared to a $400-$600 estimate.

Then in a single lot were two miniature engravings described as; "Attributed to Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Memin (French), two physionotraces portraits of "John August Chevallie (1765-1878)" and "A Gentleman".

These had a hammer price of $1600 compared to an estimate of $400-$600.

Neals Auctions also sold two pairs of portraits.

The first pair were of named children in inscribed cases, with one portrait by John Ramsier (American, Kentucky, 1861-1936) and one by T.H. Harrison (American, late 19c/early 20C) which hammered at $1650 compared to an estimate of $1000-$1500.

The second pair of two girls also by John Ramsier sold for $700, compared to an estimate of $600-$900.

The other miniature portrait sale of interest, was by Heritage Auctions.

Their hammer price was $11500 for a miniature portrait identified as; "Lieutenant Arthur Sinclair, U. S. Navy, Born Feb. 29th 1777, Died Feb. 29, 1831, as Commodore", and which had a pre sale estimate of $12,000-$15,000.

The description also observed; "It is interesting to note that Sinclair was the great grandfather of the American novelist Upton Sinclair and sired three sons who all served in the United States Navy but resigned their commissions in 1861 to serve in the Confederate States navy".

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