December - Some additions

Many thanks for the festive wishes from various people. They are warmly reciprocated!

Some people ask me about buying damaged miniatures, and I have commented on the reasons for and against such purchases in previous posts. Showing here is an example of a damaged miniature I was willing to buy. As can be seen it is rubbed at the top left. That is repairable, although I will probably leave it as is, in the meantime. The reasons for buying it were that it has three pluses; it is of a man in uniform, the sitter is important - as he is Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria, and it was painted by a highly regarded artist - Robert Theer. In this case, the restored value would be much greater than the cost of the miniature, inclusive of the cost of restoration.

I expect most miniature portrait collectors were aware of the Dennis Auctions sale in September. They had a most interesting collection of miniatures, I understand mainly collected prior to WWII. There were nearly 500 miniatures, with an amazing mixture of styles. Many European decorative, many tourist pieces from the time of the British Raj in India, a number of European and British miniatures, and nearly 100 American miniatures. Having been collected so long ago, when there were few reference books available, there was very mixed scholarship in the attributions of unsigned miniatures.

There were many, that I would have liked to have bid for (had money been permitting!!), and if I had lived closer, I would have certainly attended the sale. It is always difficult to buy remotely, even though a kind lady who attended the auction did look at some for me, which was very helpful. In the end I left absentee bids on twenty lots, mostly with low bids, thinking that was as much as I could afford to spend, and got seven of them.

I skipped bidding most of the obvious artists, as I thought prices would be higher on them, and instead went more for unattributed, or wrongly attributed artists. However, by being absent, I missed many bargains. I think the auctioneers did their client a dis-service by auctioning so many at once. While it was great for buyers, prices would have been higher, if the lots had been spread over, say, three separate auctions. Nevertheless, I was overall very happy with the lots I won. Five are American, one is British, and one is Spanish.

Firstly, the Spanish one is of an officer in a blue coat by Brioso. All that Blattel says of F Brioso is that he was active 1835-1865, but from this example he must have been painting for quite some years before that, or else it is by a previously unrecorded artist, also named Brioso. The quality is very good (click on the image to see it better), and his style is similar to Domenico Bossi.

[Later - I have been kindly advised by a Spanish collector that José Brioso is one of the leading Spanish miniaturists of the first half of the nineteenth century. Little is known of his life. He was born in Cadiz (Andalusia) and worked in Madrid during the reign of Isabel II. In 2009 a Spanish auction house sold the portrait of a lady, signed and dated 1845.] It is not clear whether F Brioso and José Brioso are the same person, but it does seem works by Brioso are rare.

Next to him is a portrait of Lady Carteret. I did not realise until I inspected it on arrival, that it is by the well regarded British artist, Anne Mee. The young girl in a white dress was also unattributed, but I was, and am still, fairly confident it is by the American artist - Lawrence Sully. His miniatures tend to be fairly primitive in style.

Miniatures by three American artists are in the next group. The young lady was attributed to Quinton an American artist, who was active in the early 19C. It is dated 1828 on the reverse, and signed on the front, although that may be a later addition. Thus, I am not confident of the attribution. The central one of a man in a blue coat does have a crack, but is well signed and by the uncommon American artist, Jean Francois Vallee who was active 1785-1826. This is a case where the damage is not too obvious, and the miniature provides a good example of Vallee's work and signature. The third miniature in the row was the most disappointing purchase. The auction catalogue said it was signed at lower left Mauvais for the rare American artist A Mauvais, but I have not been able to locate a signature.

The seventh miniature was the one I was most keen to acquire. It has a label on the reverse attributing it to the American artist, Tisdale. However, I doubted that straight away. Instead believing it was by the premier American artist, Edward Green Malbone. This was due to its similarity to many other miniatures by Malbone. I have shown the detail of my argument and the other similar examples at Malbone, Edward Greene - portrait of a lady

If the attribution is correct, it was the "sleeper" of the sale, and its true value means that the other six miniatures from the auction, including the Anne Mee, were effectively acquired for nothing. This illustrates the need to do one's research carefully, and then back one's own judgement. The seven taken together, show that there will often be "swings and roundabouts" in overpaying for some lots, but getting others as bargains.

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