December - The market - fake and genuine miniatures

As a little test, albeit unscientific, I recently did a search on eBay in the Art category, using the two words; "ivory" and "miniature", just to see what proportion were fakes! Also what proportion of the genuine miniatures were worth bidding on for the average collector.

I was surprised when the proportion of fakes was even higher than I expected. I had expected it to be about 50:50. The eBay search brought up 338 items, of which about 40% were "red herrings" i.e. caught in the net in error! That left 196 ivory miniatures. Of these only, 37 or 19%, were genuine and the majority, 159 or 81%, were decorative fakes!

The 37 genuine items included some of poor quality and some with ridiculously high prices. None of the 37 were signed by the artist, although several were attributed to artists. None of the 37 had identified sitters. There were only one or two that could possibly be recommended as worth bidding on.

Fake miniatures
There has been the usual mix of fake and genuine miniatures appearing in the market place. Most fakes are obvious, but several fakes were dangerous ones in my opinion. The most dangerous fakes are where the seller, provides a misleading description.

Regular visitors will know that there are many easily detectable fakes, such as those with piano key frames. Showing here are three that are less obvious and where the seller made claims as to authenticity which I believe cannot be substantiated.

The first one was described as; "Titled on reverse, "Miss Bover" - Original Miniature Portrait Painting on Ivory in Watercolor and body color. Signed J. Hoppner 1790. - In the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, there is a portrait on ivory of the Princess of Wales with a very similar frame, composition and signature. That portrait, dated 1787, is attributed to John Hoppner, based on the signature. - You may view that painting online, by visiting the website of the Philadelphia Museum of art and searching their collection for John Hoppner."

It was offered for sale with an opening price of $1,195 and a Buy It Now price of $2000. However, both this miniature and the one referred to in the Philadelphia Museum of Art are 19C fakes. The catalog of the Philadelphia Museum illustrates over 400 miniatures in its collection, but there is a sprinkling of fake miniatures in their collection. Whether the Museum has subsequently had their collection reassessed, I do not know, but it shows that even Museums can make mistakes. This often happens when an item is gifted to a museum by a donor who believes in good faith that an item is genuine.

There are many things wrong with the miniature, but the main point is that Hoppner did not paint miniatures. Daphne Foskett was the acknowledged expert on British miniatures, but she did not even list him in her dictionary. Also the colors and frame are all wrong for the time.

So remember, just because a similar example appears in a museum, does not necessarily mean either of them are genuine. To be fair to the seller of this item, when I emailed them to tell them it was a fake, they withdrew it from sale.

The second miniature is also a fake, but the seller took no notice of my email telling them it is a fake. I think that shows a dishonest seller.

It was described as; "Giovanna Garzoni 1600 - 1670 - 17th Century (Italian) A simply wonderfully executed and very very rare 17th Century miniature painting of an aristocratic lady in formal dress. Signed by the artist G (giovanna) Garzoni and dated 1650, this is a wonderful opportunity to purchase a major find. It is inscribed verso Duchess de D******** but I can not make the last part of the name out. I have rarely seen a miniture portrait painting of this quality and feel safe in saying it will make a superb investment for the winning bidder."

There was also a lot more in the eBay description about Garzoni, all giving the impression the miniature is genuine.

My email pointed out that it appeared to be on ivory, which was not used in 1670 for miniatures, also the colors are all wrong for the period, as is the frame. It must have been copied from an engraving in the 19C. As I write this the bid price is up to $338, which is about all it is worth. [Later - this fake finally sold for $1525.] The seller has a number of other fakes for sale, with misleading descriptions, although not quite as bad, see Items for sale so be warned.

The actual third miniature is not an actual fake as such, but the sitter has been given a fake identification. The miniature is French, not American.

It was offered by Early American Auctions and described as; "Painting on Ivory of a Young Patrick Henry - c. 1770, 18th Century, Oil Painted on Ivory, Miniature Portrait of a Gentleman, Choice Extremely Fine. Unsigned, 2.75" diameter, housed in a period round gilt frame, and quite handsome. This image looks like a young Patrick Henry of Virginia, with light-green eyes, wearing a purple jacket, fancy vest and ascot. PROVENANCE: Ex: Freeman Auction Gallery, From the collection of D. Virginia Armentrout of Ambler, Pennsylvania."

This is a case where the vendor is making a misleading statement in my opinion. The starting price is $1 (yes, $1) with an estimate of $6000 - $8000! The auction has not yet taken place, but I hope no one is fooled by the claim. [Later, the miniature sold for around $6000 inclusive of the buyer's premium, which was far too high for an unknown sitter by an unknown artist. I think it was worth under $500.]

Puzzling, is another item sold at auction. I will refrain from saying they are fakes, but this pair of miniatures has me a little worried.

They sold for GBP317 and were described as: "Fine pair of Georgian period portrait miniatures. Circa 1780. In a shield shaped fitted easel stand with a family crest to the top. The miniatures are possibly of husband and wife but there are no details at all with the portraits. The lady is signed with initials 'TP' or possibly 'JP'. Each portrait measures 1 & 5/8ths" high. The easel frame is slightly later in date, probably 1830's and was originally velvet but the plush has now worn down to the material underneath, the back is still in excellent condition with the original pink silk and the stand is working fine. Overall height is 5 & 1/4" high. The miniatures are in excellent condition."

My concern is that the stand looks very modern and the actual crest looks like those modern pewter reproductions ones sees for sale on family history sites. Thus I wonder if the miniatures are also new, as they look rather odd for 18C miniatures. I think this seller is honest, but I hope they have not been fooled themselves.

Modern fake miniatures are rare. I have been surprised none have appeared on the market from China, as they seem an obvious target for modern fakers. I may be mistaken and it may be genuine, but my reason for posting it here, is in case there is anyone who may be starting to make fake shields and offer them for sale. Thus if any similar items appear, please let me know.

Genuine Miniatures
Genuine miniatures seem to require less comment. Their quality is obvious and the experts can pick them out, even when the auction house does not recognise the artist.

Although this was not the case with the first item. It was offered by Alex Cooper Auctions and has impeccable provenance, being illustrated in a book and was described as; "Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741-1827). Quarter-length portrait of General Jonathan Sellman, oval watercolor, 1 5/8 x 1 3/8 in., mounted in a gold pendant with chain. Reference: Portraits and Miniatures by Charles Willson Peale, by Charles Coleman Sellers, 1952, pgs. 192 & 261."

The estimate was for a hammer price of $25,000 - $35,000 and it sold exactly at the mid point for $30,000.

The second two miniatures were offered by Eldreds, but they obviously did not know who the artists were, as the pre sale estimate for the two was only $200 - $300. The description said only; "Two miniature portraits - One of a lady, 1 3/4" x 1 3/8", the other of a gentleman, 1 1/4" x 1". Unsigned."

However they achieved a combined hammer price of $1300 which was still cheap, as the man is by a famous British artist named Jeremiah Meyer.

I could not pick the artist for the lady, but she looks to be a genuine 18C item, although in a modern American frame. [Later, a kind visitor tells me the lady "is by Louis Sicardi, a beautiful miniature, although it seems to have seen better days".]

David Rago Auctions offered two other miniatures with a combined pre-sale estimate of $600 - $800. They were described only as; "Miniature watercolor on ivory - Two pieces: young woman wearing a gray dress holding a baby in a lace cap, ca. 1840, together with a miniature on ivory of a child with a red necklace. Larger (sight): 2" x 3 1/2".

They sold after spirited bidding for $1900 plus buyer's commission as the bidders had picked the one on the left as being by Mrs Moses B Russell. She is also known as Clarissa Peters.

However, it is not one of her best miniatures, being of a child among clouds, probably deceased, and it is rather dull. I do not know the other artist, both frames are modern.

An interesting miniature was this one of a man wearing a wig sold by Kaminski Auctions for a hammer price of $700. It was described only as; "18th Century American miniature portrait on ivory of a gentleman, mounted in a solid rose gold pin/pendant, fitted in a leather case."

However, I could not pick the artist. I ruled out Robert Fulton, although it is a little similar to his American miniatures. I thought it might possibly be by John Ramage, but was not confident enough to bid. I do think whoever picked the artist got a bargain.

Another miniature, I think was cheap, given the sitter, was this miniature of Mark Twain, sold by Davis Rago Auctions for a hammer price of $2800.

It was described as:
"G.C. Richter portrait miniature of Mark Twain. After 1904 portrait by Edoardo Gelli, with 14k pendant frame, indistinctly marked, probably Carter & Gough, 2 3/4" x 2 3/8" below bail. (Note: This pendant was probably by descent through the Clemens family. "I have had many portraits painted, though each one I vowed would be the last; and as I don't believe any one's word should be broken in at least 10 years, I guess you really will be the last on to do it." Mark Twain to portrait painter James Carroll Beckwith c. 1890 at the age of 60. In 1904, at the age of 74, Twain sat for his final portrait with notable Italian pinter Edoardo Gelli. That painting was exhibited at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and currently is in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum. It is most likely that this miniature was commissioned for a member of the Clemens family before the 1st World War."

Although Twain is quoted as sitting for many portraits, that was for large portraits. Miniature portraits of him are rare. For more about miniature portraits of him, including one in this collection thought to be of him, see; Wilmot, Alta Eliza - portrait of Mark Twain

While on the subject of Mark Twain, one of his quotes suits me fine. It is: "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow" Mark Twain

However, the above examples show some bargains can still be found, by those willing to study hard and not skip their homework!

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