June - Is the casework original?

A recent question to me from a collector, raised the issue of changing frames for portraits. The writer raised it in the context of;
"Your just added new comments on your blog site regarding fake and replica miniatures currently on eBay. The comments are very interesting and helpful. Many of your comments have been about both eBay and auction houses and I have a question about professional miniature dealers.

Fall of last year a UK miniature dealer purchased a piece from eBay. It was of an Edwardian Lady. I found it interesting because I was just beginning to understand photo base portraits. Several months later the UK dealer listed the miniature on the seller's website.

The seller just had a picture of the front so I requested one of the back. During the original eBay listing I downloaded pictures of both the front and back. I asked the professional dealer to send a photo of the back because of questions I had about that dealer's previous practices. The picture sent to me showed a hair memento under glass. When it was listed on eBay there was no hair memento. Comparing the original eBay ad picture and the UK dealer's picture it was the same mount and backing material, but the hair was a new addition. I asked the dealer if the hair art was original and was told it was, but remember the original eBay ad photo shows no such hair memento in the back. It shows just a white backing material.

It is not an uncommon practice for professional dealers to obtain a miniature and have work done on it. Cleaning, fumigating and even remounting is common. But is adding something like a hair momento an accepted practice? I have always considered hair art to be very personal to the sitter. To add hair from who knows where strikes me as quite disrespectful To hide this fact is less than ethical to me.

Two months ago the miniature sold. I would assume the buyer is thinking the hair is original and so unique to the miniature. So what is your opinion of this situation? I have discussed it with only one other collector who has bought from this dealer. She was not impressed with the practice.

I should say in defense of professional dealers, I have usually found when specifically asked they will honestly describe any work and/or restoration to the piece. Of course none of them have added "new" hair art to a piece."

My reply to the collector was as follows;
"Regarding casework, I agree with you, it is completely wrong and also disrespectful to add or remove hair-work. However, I fear it is quite common among dealers. One other reason I disagree is that one day in the future, I hope it may even be possible to identify unknown sitters by the DNA in the hair contained in a miniature!!

I think that dealers who alter miniatures in the way you say are doing themselves a disservice, as they risk their reputations and discourage potential buyers who notice the change. I guess whether a miniature is kept in original frame etc. shows the difference between a collector and a dealer!!

A similar thing I disapprove of, is families who deliberately remove the name of the sitter, when selling an ancestor out of their family, so they become just another unknown sitter. I feel that is like destroying a gravestone!"

Unfortunately, there is little that can be done about this, as some dealers tend to regard miniatures as merchandise to be sold at the best price. That being their object in being in business, can be seen as commercially logical, and indeed, I know some collectors do not mind if a case has been changed.

However, my personal view is more akin to that of a museum. I like the beauty of miniatures, but to me the history is of vital social importance. The original case is part of the artwork and to change it destroys part of the original artwork. In rare cases it may be unavoidable, but to change hair-work from one portrait to another is particularly heinous in my mind, as it prevents any future possibility of identifying an unknown sitter from the DNA in the hair. That is not currently possible, but given the speed of research, it may become possible in future years.

No comments:

Post a Comment