February - Yves St Laurent sale

Any collector of miniatures is now too late to place bids at the Yves St Laurent auction held by Christie's in Paris this month! However, they may be interested in Lot 120 which was purchased by The Louvre for GBP481,000 or USD622,000.

This must be close to being a record price for a European miniature portrait on enamel.

The description was: AN IMPORTANT LOUIS XIV ROSE-CUT DIAMOND AND ENAMELLED GOLD-MOUNTED PRESENTATION MINIATURE, THE PORTRAIT BY JEAN I PETITOT (1607-1691), THE MOUNTS PROBABLY BY PIERRE OR LAURENT LE TESSIER DE MONTARSY, CIRCA 1680. The circular pendant with oval miniature of Louis XIV enclosed in large rose-cut diamonds with smaller stones at the outer edges, the reverse enamelled with Louis XIV's cypher, the crown-shaped openwork surmount decorated en suite and mounted in silver and gold.

This miniature is inspired by a royal portrait by Claude Lefèvre and engraved by Nicolas Pitau in 1670, a copy of which is in the New Orleans Museum of Art. These miniatures, known in the 17th century as boîtes à portrait, originally came in outer cases and were intended as royal gifts during the reign of Louis XIV. Indeed, more than 300 examples are listed in the registre des Présents du Roi. A similar pendant with a different portrait, but the diamonds now missing, is exhibited in the Gemeente Museum of the Hague (inv. n. ODv.1-1929).

It was given to Antonius Heinsius, Great Pensioner of Holland, when he came to France for the funeral of Queen Marie Thérèse in 1683. Only three boîtes with the portrait after Lefèvre are recorded of which the present example is the most complete. (See M. Bimbenet-Privat, op. cit)

Also sold at the sale was Lot 121 described as; A GERMAN MINIATURE PORTRAIT ON ENAMEL ATTRIBUTED TO ISMAEL MENGS (1688-1764), CIRCA 1740. Portrait of King Augustus III of Poland and Elector Frederick-Augustus II of Saxony (1696-1764), wearing the Polish order of the White Eagle, in a later silver-gilt laurel and scroll frame surmounted by a crown. The price was much more affordable at GBP10,000 (USD13,000).

Enamel miniatures of this size and type were gifted as diplomatic gifts in the late 17C and early 18C. The quality of the case being a reflection of the importance of the recipient and the wealth of the sovereign giving the miniature.

An enamel miniature in this Artists and Ancestors collection, of similar date and size, but in a little less ornate case is one depicting William III which is attributed to Michael Rosse (1650-1735), the husband of Susan Penelope Rosse, for more detail see Rosse, Michael - portrait of King William III

The prices achieved at the sale even though high for Lot 120, make me think that miniature portraits are still inexpensive compared to large artworks.

For example Lot 77 only 178mm in diameter, really more of a miniature in size, but was inccuded within the large artworks sold for GBP577,000 (USD747,000). It was described as; "PORTRAIT OF A MAN IN PROFILE, SIGNED BY JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID. PENCIL, PEN AND BLACK INK, BLACK AND GREY WASH, HEIGHTENED WITH WHITE, PEN AND BROWN INK FRAMING LINES. "

"Reproduced in most works devoted to Jacques-Louis David and exhibited on numerous occasions, this drawing is well renown. Without a doubt, this celebrity status - the term Davidian icon springs to mind! - is due as much to its obvious pictorial qualities as to its traditional identification - the only known self-portrait drawn by the artist - and its remarkable provenance: this is the only drawing by David to have been included in the Goncourt brothers' collection".

Being a self portrait makes the image more valuable, although it appears there is not necessarily universal acceptance of it as a self portrait by David.

Two of David's contemporaries are connected to a miniature portrait in this collection which is set into the top of a green lacquer snuff box with gold filigree work on the top and around the sides.

They were the important French sculptor Joseph Chinard and his good friend, the miniature painter in enamels, Jean-Francois Sorion who painted this enamel miniature of Chinard in 1801.

Thus it is fascinating to think that David likely handled this miniature of Joseph Chinard. For more about it see Soiron, Jean Francois - portrait of Joseph Chinard

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