September - A Likely Fake and the Identity of the Real Dr Frankenstein

There has been little of note in the market place recently, although some items are worthy of comment. Two of them being potentially very controversial!

One a likely fake, the other identifying the original Dr Frankenstein who was the inspiration for Mary Shelley's famous 19C novel!

Likely fake sells for $43,000
A miniature portrait claimed to be of Gershom Mendes Seixas (1745-1816) was sold at auction by Raynors' Historical Collectible Auctions on Sep 17 2008 for a hammer price of $37,000, about $43,000 inclusive of buyer's commission. This compared to a pre-sale estimated hammer price of $50,000-$75,000. See 31: MINIATURE PORTRAIT ON IVORY OF THE FIRST AMERICAN B

The miniature was given an apparently impeccable pedigree and has been featured in a number of books and exhibitions, as shown in this following auction description;

"A direct descendant of a prominent Colonial New York Jewish family, he was chosen in 1768 to lead Congregation Shearith Israel of N.Y. City, to present-day the oldest and the very first formed (in 1654) Jewish congregation in America. As the "Hazzan" (Cantor) of that venerable congregation he conducted and led all public services and was the first to preach in English in a synagogue. An ardent Revolutionary patriot, he refused to offer prayers for King George III or to fly the British flag over the temple when the British defeated General Washington in N.Y. August 1776. Seixas fled N.Y. for Philadelphia where his significant exertions helped establish their noted Congr. Mickve Israel; upon its opening he invoked the blessings of God on the American Congress and Gen'l Washington. At war's end he returned to N.Y. and his congregation, subsequently invited to attend Washington's inauguration as President. This extremely important, historical and rare miniature portrait of Seixas painted on ivory (3 x 3 ½); mounted in its gilt finished, delicate brass frame which is inset in a larger wood outer panel (5 x 6 overall). Condition very fine. Portrait is widely known and is illustrated and described in numerous respected works on American Judaism and been displayed in prominent museum exhibitions. A fine color illustration of it is seen in the prestigious catalog of the exhibition by the "BETH HATEFUTSOTH MUSEUM OF THE JEWISH DIASPORA" in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1986-87 "IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF COLUMBUS; JEWS IN AMERICA 1654-1880."Also well illustrated and described in the notable exhibition and catalog of "FACING THE NEW WORLD; JEWISH PORTRAITS IN COLONIAL AND FEDERAL AMERICA" held 1997-98 by the Jewish Museum of New York. The portrait is prominently featured as the full page frontispiece in the 2004 published "REMNANTS OF ISRAEL; A PORTRAIT OF AMERICA'S FIRST JEWISH CONGREGATION, SHEARITH ISRAEL" by Rabbi Marc D. Angel, N.Y. and again illustrated in the text of that same work. It is also to be seen in "THE SEIXAS-KURSHEEDTS AND THE LIVES OF EARLY AMERICAN JEWRY" by K. Lebow pub. by A.J.H.S., 2001; and more recently illustrated and described in the widely reviewed work by Prof. J. D. Sarna, "AMERICAN JUDAISM; A HISTORY," Yale Univ. Press, 2004. (Color photostats of all works mentioned accompany painting). For past two years this miniature portrait has been illustrated by the American Jewish Historical Society on their website in their "Database of Early American Jewish Portraits". There is much more to the biography of Gershom Mendes Seixas. Painting was acquired originally in 1960 as a gift from a direct descendant of Seixas to the noted Jewish-American historian Maxwell Whiteman (author of the classic reference "History of Jews of Philadelphia") pub. by J. P. S. 1957; also "Isaac Leeser and the Jews of Philadelphia" pub. by A.J.H.S. 1959 and numerous monographs and articles on Judaism. Painting was subsequently acquired directly from Mr. Whiteman in 1991 by present owner. An immensely significant American Judaic rarity."

However, I doubt it is genuine. Although, to doubt the authenticity of this miniature, I feel as if I am commenting on the Emperor's new clothes!

I do not like to see anyone misled about a miniature portrait. My doubts about this one were so strong, that I sent the following email to the auctioneers before the date of the sale;

"Can you please advise whether you guarantee that this item is genuine? I believe rectangular miniatures of this size and shape, hairstyle, and with this palette coloring date to around 1820. The artist looks as if it may be Anson Dickinson (1779-1852) who was active around 1820. Miniatures were not painted in this manner in the 18C and so the sitter is much too young to be Seixas. It seems more likely a much later copy or perhaps more likely is the son or grandson of Seixas."

Perhaps predictably, there was no reply from the auctioneers.

I now hope that any reader of my comments here, who knows the purchaser of the miniature, will contact them to advise them of these reservations, so that they are at least aware of the reservations and can investigate them further if they so desire. For example, they could approach major museums or experts on American miniature portraits.

While I do cannot claim to be 100% certain it is a fake, I guess my certainty is around 99.9% that it was not painted in the 18C and so is not an original portrait of Seixas.

The sitter looks to be around 30 years of age and hence to be Seixas, the miniature would need to date to 1775. That does not compute with me. The shape, style, clothes, and colors are all wrong for a miniature said to be pre 1820.

Showing here is another monochrome portrait of Seixas which may be genuine. There is a similar general appearance, but a vital dating difference is with the white collar. In the color image, the points of his collar stick up against his neck. This feature dates to 1820. The monochrome image does not have this and thus fits with 18C dress.

Similarly, the coat worn in the color image is from around 1820, whereas the gown in the monochrome is 18C in style.

Thus in my opinion the miniature in the color image dates from 1820. It is either a fake or probably more likely a genuine portrait from 1820 of an unidentified man who has much later been claimed to be Seixas.

Anson Dickinson is a possible artist, although I am not entirely confident that it was him. Both he and his brother, Daniel Dickinson were working in New York around that time. However, it may be by a different artist altogether.

Possibly it is an 1820's copy of a 1775 portrait, but if I had been buying the miniature at the auction, I would want to see the original before I accepted that possible explanation.

If it is proved to be an 1820's copy, or an 1820 portrait of an unknown man, the value would most likely be less than $2000 to a specialist collectors of American miniature.

Given the auction description above, it seems the miniature has been accepted for over twenty years. However, that does not mean it cannot be challenged now.

In a comment earlier this year, I commented on rectangular portraits given dates that were too early for the artist they were attributed to. See The Case of Walter Robertson, Copies, Attributions, and RRR

On a number of occasions I have also commented on fakes of George Washington miniatures offered at auction in the past, for example see April - Fakes and decorative miniatures.

In response to those comments on both the claimed Walter Robertson's and the fake George Washington's, I received supporting comments from acknowledged experts in the field of American miniature portraits and anticipate they will again agree with the bulk of the comments expressed here.

Even so, I would be interested in opinions from other collectors about this claimed Seixas item.

The Original Dr Frankenstein
There is an old adage; "people who live in glass houses should not throw stones".

Thus I am conscious that in making the above comments about the Seixas miniature and making a claim that this miniature portrait represents an image of the doctor who was the inspiration for Dr Frankenstein, risks many brickbats being thrown my way!

However, the identity of the artist, the sitter, and the date is without question in this instance.

The portrait has recently been acquired for this collection and I am still in the process of researching the item.

Interested visitors can review my efforts at Bone, Henry - portrait of Sir Anthony Carlisle and make their own assessment as to the accuracy of the research and the conclusions drawn there.

The "miniature" is a large, 200mm x 170mm, and important work by the famous British enameller Henry Bone (1755-1834).

There is a full description of Sir Anthony Carlisle (1768-1842) at Bone, Henry - portrait of Sir Anthony Carlisle . Suffice to say, Carlisle was a most remarkable man from the late 18C and early 19C.

His main career was as a surgeon, including being Surgeon Extraordinary to King George IV.

However, and although for the most part, he is only recognised in obscure references, he was also;
- involved in the earliest photographic experiments which took place prior to 1800,
- he discovered electrolysis in 1800,
- he determined that bats navigated by hearing 100 years before science accepted this,
- he supported the introduction of laws to prevent child labor,
- he attempted to fly,
- and he was also the model for Dr Frankenstein!

Carlisle was in attendance at the birth of Mary Godwin Shelley and was a friend of her father. Carlisle experimented with the effects of electric current on the bodies of executed convicts to make their limbs and heads move. He was an excellent story teller and his gruesome experiments were discussed at fashionable dinner parties where he was a guest.

From all that I believe he deserves a proper biography. I do hope some author can pick up my threads and use them to write a proper biography of Sir Anthony Carlisle.
[Much later - January 2010 - I have tackled the task! A fascinating ebook biography of Carlisle is now available at The Real Mr Frankenstein ]

James H Gillespie pair
There is also more certainty about the artist in this pair of James H Gillespie miniatures which sold recently at auction for $1275.

This seems a solid price for a pair of English profile miniatures, even though he did also later work in America.

In my opinion, this pair perhaps more likely relates to his British period.

As can be seen, the printed label reads; "Likeness drawn in one minute by J. H. Gillespie Profile Painter".

Thus it was not a long process and enabled him to make a large number of miniatures in several different styles, his later profile's tending to be colored and with a light background.

There are example of his later work in this collection. For example, see Gillespie, J H - portraits of Alexander H Niven and a member of the Biddle family

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