January 2010 - Mainly American miniatures

Provenance is a major factor in considering the value of collectible items, including miniature portraits. A good example of this are two identical miniature portraits of George Washington. The Maine Antique Digest reported that a 2 5/8" high miniature portrait in enamel by William Russell Birch (1755-1834) sold for $38,513 to miniature paintings specialist Elle Shushan of Philadelphia.

Skinners were the auctioneers, and the item recently sold reminded me of an identical version I wrote about a couple of years ago. That was sold at auction for about $110,000. The only difference between the two being the provenance, as the more expensive one had belonged to one of the doctors who attended Washington at his deathbed.

Sites about miniatures.
When this blog started there were very few sites where miniature portraits could be seen, and few references to them. Gradually, it seems more interest is occurring, which is only right given their importance in terms of skill, personal history, and the social history of hair and costume styles. I have noticed a good selection on display at World in Miniature They have been on display for some months, but I only recently became aware of the site. Another site is in Polish, but the images are nice, see Miniature portraits However, Google can translate the gist of the comments and the home page of the website has links to a number of museum collections of miniatures, including
Another site with very high quality miniatures is A Private Portrait Miniature Collection The owners of the latter collection are interested in forming a Portrait Miniature Club.

Taken with other important collections such as those of the various Royal families, and major public collections in Russia, Sweden, America, Italy, the British NPG, the Scottish NPG, and the Albertina in Austria makes one realize there must be at least 100,000 portrait miniatures in existence. That is an amazing social treasure, especially when one considers the average age of each individual miniature is likely to be about 200 years, many sitters are known, and they are mostly in pristine condition.

New Metropolitan Catalogue
As I expect most collectors are aware the Metropolitan Museum has just issued a new catalogue. I do not have a copy, but was intrigued to see a miniature portrait on the front cover which I was the under-bidder on about five years ago. It is an attractive portrait of a lady jointly signed by Inman and Cummings. It was offered on eBay by a seller who could not read the signature. However, I could and realised who the artists were and how rare it was. Thus, I bid more than I could afford at $3250, but it was bought by the premier expert on American miniatures for $3300, who then obviously on-sold it to the Metropolitan Museum.

An article at Portrait miniatures from the Met debut at the Winter Antiques Show - Current & Coming - The Magazine Antiques shows several miniatures from the collection, including another one I was sadly the under-bidder on which was sold in late 2007. It is a miniature by Mira Edgerly Korzybska and of the Dodge children. I cannot remember the price exactly, but think it was about $1800. However, it was not too disappointing, as there is already a much larger miniature by her in this collection, showing here and for more about it, see
20C - American Miniature Portraits: Korzybska, Mira Edgerly ...

Although missing out on those two portraits, it is some consolation to know I was bidding on what turned out to be "museum quality" items!

American miniatures
Every week I am asked about miniature portraits. Many are decorative miniatures, but there are also many nice miniatures of real sitters and I am often asked whether they should be sold. When they still belong to a descendant I always recommend they should stay within a family, as with most of the examples shown here, which are some of those I have been asked about recently.

There are three by John Carlin of one family, a fine one by Thomas Story Officer, a magnificent one by Carl Weinedel in a very rare case marked with his name, and one of John Henry Hobart which I think is by William Russell Birch. There is also one by Robert Field.

No comments:

Post a Comment