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".

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