February - Market place and addition

The Market Place

Recently I have kindly been sent two interesting books about European miniatures, one Italian and the other French. The Italian one is written by Bernardo Falconi It is about the series of miniatures by Giambattista Gigola depicting Eugene de Beauharnis and his family. The 91 page book is interesting as it is the equivalent of an early 19C "photograph album", showing miniatures by Gigola of the one family over a period of time. It is in Italian with coloured photographs and with a summary in English.

The other is 130 pages recording the 21 papers, four in English and seventeen in French, which were presented at a conference on miniatures held in France on 10/11 October 2008. The many illustrations are in black and white, but the articles are very informative.

Limnings in Little

Miniature collectors interested in other opinions on the subject of miniature portraits should also visit Limnings in Little by Christine Archibald.

As an aim of this Artists and Ancestors blog is to improve collective knowledge on the subject of miniature portraits, any new blogs such as this new one are welcome. I endorse the entry in Christine's blog; "There’s a real need for a comprehensive dictionary and guide for American miniatures (along the lines of Daphne Foskett’s dictionary on English miniatures)."

For future ease of reference, I have added the link into the Gallery Links on the right, on this page and also on the Artists and Ancestors Home page, so they can easily be found in the future. Also added into the Gallery Links is a link to a website about a miniature of Abraham Lincoln which has other useful comments, see Lincoln Miniature Painting - An Abraham Lincoln Discovery

Auction houses

Many of the miniatures added to this collection over the last few years came from eBay live auctions. However, from January 1 in their wisdom(??), eBay have ceased their live auctions and hence it is now much harder to locate miniature portraits to purchase. One can go direct to the auction house sites, but very few of them are user friendly.

For example, Skinners is very hard to log onto, it took me about two days of trying over about ten sessions before I could log on. I think their server must be too limited in capacity, so there is very much a disincentive to bid at such auction houses.

Other auction houses have similar or different problems. I know of one online miniature buyer who signed up for a live auction run by a replacement for eBay, but the replacement ran into problems during the auction and skipped all the potential live bidding. For this reason and the general economic conditions, it looks like it may be a difficult year to locate many new miniatures.

I expect 2009 will be a hard year for auction houses, initially with more people wanting to sell possessions than there are wanting to buy them, particularly for lots at the upper end of the market, unless the lots are really exceptional such as the Washington miniature below. This will depress overall auction prices and so after a few weak auction sales, I think many items will be held back by sellers until 2010 and beyond. The reduced sales at the top of the market will hit the income of auction houses very hard, as it is the commission on top art prices which make their annual profits.

There are also likely to be some failures among auction houses, as with any other industry group, so sellers should be wary of selecting which houses they use. It would seem logical for lower-end firms to go out of business and for there to likely be some consolidations among auction houses during 2009/2010.
Possibly because of the economic conditions and perhaps influenced by the very high commission rates, the recent Skinners' sale of miniatures had mixed results. It is understood that about half the miniatures were unsold and one by Mrs Moses B Russell sold for only $237.

Where as institutions are willing to pay well for very rare items, the average auction buyer is put off by very high commission rates. It is probable selling commission rates can be negotiated for the likes of the Washington miniature below, but for lesser items, if an auction house charges 20-25% on sales and another 20-25% to the purchaser, the auction house is taking nearly 50% of the total price and there is also sometimes sales tax on top of the commissions. To me that seems excessive.

However the top lot sold well. It was a miniature by Robert Field of George Washington, reputedly being the last miniature by Field in private hands. It was estimated at $150,000 to $200,000 and I think it sold for little over $300,000. It is identical to one sold last year for $300,000, see Miniatures of George Washington - fake and genuine.]

Another lot sold as unattributed, but by John Ramage, being a portrait miniature of a gentleman wearing a red jacket, late 18th century, watercolor on ivory, oval bust, estimated at $800-1200, was recognised by some bidders and sold for $3,081.

Additional miniatures sold by Skinners included a portrait miniature of a gentleman, attributed to William Verstille (American, 1757-1803), c. 1785, watercolor and gouache on ivory, estimated at $2500-3500, which sold for $4,148. Also, a portrait miniature of William Greenleaf, wrongly attributed to John Ramage (Irish/American, 1748-1802), but actually by William Verstille c. 1778, estimated at $1000-2000, sold for $3,555.


Collectors still need to watch out for dishonest or ignorant sellers. A miniature of Beethoven with a fake signature of Hall, intended to make a buyer think it was by Pierre Adolphe Hall, was advertised for sale as by an American artist, being described as; "Up for Bid is an Original Vintage MINIATURE PORTRAIT of LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN rendered in OIL-ON-VELLUM by Listed Artist WILLIAM HALL (Philadelphia Early-Mid 19th Century) Signed Upper Right circa 1840!!!!

Wonderful Miniature Portrait of Beethoven after Joseph Karl Stieler's Masterpiece. Housed in it Original Oval Frame, sans the Glass. William Hall was a Portrait Artist from Philadelphia and was active there from 1837-1840. He exhibited at the Artists' Fund Society in Phila. at that time."

That is a patently dishonest description by the seller and as intended, it fooled the buyers as it was bid up to $217, despite being worth under $100.

A more dangerous item to watch out for, was a modern reproduction of a St Memin miniature portrait. It was described as being made from the original plate. In my mind to offer items like this is bordering on the irresponsible, as subsequent sellers may then offer it as genuine and thus hurt the market value of genuine St Memin portraits.

Other interesting items

Three items offered for sale and worth commenting on, included a portrait of Sir John Dolben. Although it does not looks appealing, I was keen on this miniature, as he had an interesting history, but I was outbid.

A nice Georgian mourning brooch set into a toothpick box sold for GBP 576 which was cheap considering its rarity.

However, a miniature by the well known Swedish artist, Jakob Axel Gillberg, signed and dated 1809 did not sell, although modestly priced at $395.


Only one item has been added to the collection this month, a pencil drawing of a most unusual historical figure, the Chevalier d'Eon who spied in Russia for Louis XV, dressed as a woman, fought in the Seven Year's War, but later fenced in London as a woman until badly wounded in 1792.

d'Eon was the subject of huge wagers in London, some sources suggest as much as GBP70,000, and there was even a court case about d"Eon, as to whether d'Eon was male or female which gave rise to half and half images as showing here.

On d'Eon's death, Sir Anthony Carlisle conducted an autopsy and revealed that d'Eon was male. In the 20C and 21C d'Eon has spawned, books, plays, films and even a TV series.

For more about d'Eon, see Unknown - portrait of the Chevalier d'Eon


  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  2. It was I that outbid you for the portrait of Sir John English Dolben. He was Lord of the Manor of Finedon, Northants, of which I am the local historian, so was very pleased to get it - I have since had the frame restored.
    John L H Bailey
    johnlhbailey1@btopenworld.com - 01933-680747