June - Items of interest and more on Barratt fakes

My home page contains a link to a Spanish collection of miniatures where the owner has recently posted a photo of a wall of his miniatures! It is most impressive and can be seen at Una colección española By my rough count there are around 200 miniatures displayed.

With the assistance of the same collector, I have been able to gather together some information about a fine Spanish artist about whom little is known.
I acquired this superb miniature of an unknown officer last year. It is signed "Brioso" and is either by Jose Brioso or Francisco Brioso.

Little is known of Brioso who was one of the leading Spanish miniaturists of the first half of the nineteenth century. He was born in Cadiz (Andalusia) and worked in Madrid during the reign of Isabel II. For more about Brioso, see Brioso, Jose or Francisco - portait of an officer

More information on some American portraits has been added at American 3 It includes another portrait by Richard Morrell Staigg, one attributed to Quinton, and one signed by Vallee. Vallee was trained in France, but emigrated to the United States, and this is a good example of how styles were transported across the Atlantic. Although not shown the case is a typical French ebonised case. Vallee would have sourced his frames from Europe prior to the passing of the Embargo Act.

Barratt type fakes

On several recent occasions, (see March and May 2010) I have warned about Barratt type modern fakes. As I feared they are now being offered in a manner designed to make buyers think they are genuine.

In the last week I have been sent these examples of "Barratt" type fakes being offered in England via eBay and via "bankrupt" auctions. One buyer paid about GBP20 each for two of them, believing they were genuine, but these fakes are worth only the value of the modern frames they are in, say GBP5 each.

Unfortunately, some have the Barratt label previously illustrated, and others have an exhibition label as showing here.

However, now I have drawn attention to them, I expect that the faker will change styles and other versions may be offered to unsuspecting buyers. Scrutiny under a magnifying glass should enable potential buyers to spot them as reproductions. There is little I can suggest other than for buyers to take care.

Other advice to new collectors
Here is a selection of other comments I have recently made to interested new collectors.
Thank you for your kind comments. I think your miniature is probably Dutch from around 1650. Prior to 1700 most British miniatures were watercolour on vellum, and most Dutch ones were oil on copper. I do not think the case is original, as the case looks to be an American one from the mid to late 19C. There is not much else I can add. I regret that I do not know enough of Dutch miniatures to be able to suggest an artist, but expect it is unlikely that you will be able to determine the artist as little is known about artists of the time.

Many thanks for your kind comments. I am glad you are starting to collect miniatures. You have started with a good one. Unfortunately I regret my knowledge of British artists is not good enough to easily narrow down the artist without a lot of research. The condition sounds to be good, with nothing to worry about. (It is a pity that sometimes too much reliance is placed on condition. Just for a moment, consider how few delicate items of any kind of over 200 years of age have lasted as well!)

Insofar as books about British miniatures and also a general background to the subject are concerned, the best one to start with, which is often available in libraries, is Daphne Foskett's 1987 Dictionary and Guide which has been reprinted many times. If you would like to buy a copy, see

If that is too expensive, her 1968 book covers much of the same ground, but without the dictionary section.see
You can then decide whether to buy more reference books. While some reference books may seem expensive, if they lead to one good buy, (or save one mistake!) they can pay for themselves in connection with even just one purchase.

Apart from learning more useful information about miniatures, you would then be able to do what I do when faced with a similar situation, which is to go through all the illustrations in my various reference books, trying to pick the ones of a similar date, which are in a similar style and pose. Not all artists are illustrated, but after a while, you should start to pick out possible artists.

To help develop your confidence, it is a good idea to watch miniatures for sale on eBay and try to decide which are good ones. There is often competition there, so the final price will give a good idea of value for money, but even buying a few cheaper ones to study, will help you learn. After a while you will start to notice which sellers know what they are talking about, but many do not!

Otherwise, it depends which area you wish to collect, British, American, or European, as there are very few books which cover artists from all over the world. The two collections of French and Spanish miniatures are wonderful, but regretfully are not mine!

Fine British and European miniatures tend to be expensive, which was a major reason I decided to focus on American ones in the main; initially there was less competition and prices were lower. However, as few American artists had the professional training, the quality of their work is lower.

Specialist auctions are held several times per year by Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonhams. Also by several European auction houses. One thing that can become complicated when buying across the Atlantic, is CITES re ivory. Some auction houses are pedantic about that. If you are interested to buy example old auction catalogues, they are regularly offered for sale on eBay. Search for - miniature portrait catalogue - in the books category. In USA, Skinners and other auction houses often include miniatures in their American Art and/or Decorative Art sales.

I am very happy to try and answer your questions.

1 Yes, some miniatures were painted post mortem, either from daguerreotypes or direct from the deceased person. However, they are not common, and it can be hard to tell if they were post mortem.

See the following example by John Henry Brown (sorry for the poor image)


Raphaelle Peale also refers to the practise in an advertisement of 1801;
"RAPHAELLE PEALE - having returned to Philadelphia after an absence of 18 months, will paint portraits for a short time at the following prices - Portraits in oils, $20, in miniature on ivory, $15, profiles colored on Ivory Paper, 3, Likeness after death, $50 - fifteen or twenty minutes with the deceased is all the time necessary to obtain means of having a faithful likeness." This is interesting in several respects; it indicates the charges made by Raphaelle Peale, it indicates that he was painting miniatures much later than reference literature generally states, and it also explains a little about the practice of painting portraits of deceased persons after their death.

2 It is hard to give you a brief explanation of how to distinguish between American, British, and European miniatures. The frames are often the first key. Some early American frames were similar to Irish frames, but many were imported from England into America. I believe American frames diverged in style from British frames as a result of the Embargo Act. I tried to explain my theory on this at

Many European miniatures were round, but this is rare in America or Britain. Watercolour was rare in Europe, gouache or body colour being more common. European trained artists working in America often brought their techniques with them. If you have the time to go through my online "galleries" it may help. Showing in my collection, I have about 350 American miniatures, many of mediocre quality, but interesting for their frames. About 300 British, and over 200 European. Thus, if you have time to go through them, that number of examples may allow you to sense the different styles. But I am happy to answer questions on specific miniatures, if it would help?

3 Personally, I believe miniatures are entrancing, and the most under-rated aspect of fine art collecting, for several reasons.
a - The skill of the artists is fascinating when viewed under a magnifying glass, and one can accumulate an comprehensive collection which takes up only a small space.

b - I feel there is no other way an ordinary person can afford to buy original paintings by 18C and 19C artists whose work hangs in major museums of the world, such as the Met, Smithsonian, V&A, Louvre, Hermitage, Albertina etc. and in the major Royal collections. As an example, I have very limited resources compared to wealthy miniature collectors, but still have been fortunate to gradually accumulate original works by artists represented in those and other collections. Nearly all the miniatures I have, were purchased over the last ten years on eBay, or eBay live auctions until they ceased. However, these days it is a lot harder to find a bargain on eBay, as there is now so much knowledgeable competition!!

c But probably for me, the best aspect is the research into named sitters, which is often absolutely fascinating. Starting with just a name and recreating a life of a forgotten person, some of whom turn out to be famous. I an often stunned by where the research leads, and I learn a lot of history in the process. Some American examples that were absorbing, are;

However, the very best example would have to be Sir Anthony Carlisle, which has led me into the centre of an international medical controversy, see I had never heard of Carlisle when I bought the miniature, but researching his life has uncovered a new view of medical history, including discovering a portrait of Jan van Rymsdyk, who drew most of the illustrations for the famous 18C anatomical atlases of William Smellie and William Hunter.

I hope it will be obvious that to me, portraits have landscapes and modern art beat by miles! I hope that helps, but feel free to ask more questions. But, if you get hooked, you may find it hard to stop!


  1. Hi Don :)

    As always such a pleasure to follow your blog! You always offer terrific tips, advice and guidance to both new and seasoned collector's alike! One comment on the link to the fabulous wall display... I have to be honest I cringed seeing daylight streaming into the room and onto those precious miniatures!!!! Do you know if this collector keeps the room dim/dark? Not to be to sharp of tongue, but I always feel such a responsibility to my own collection and hope that care is taken to protect this magnificent collection from exposure to light... and eventual fading for future collectors. Hoping you can ease my mind that it was just filtering light for the photo? Thanks again for your time and efforts on the blog.. I know I speak for many that it's much appreciated :)

  2. Thank you for your kind comments. I am sure that collector is aware of the risk of bright light. I think the light in the photo is at a low oblique angle, probably late in the day for a few minutes, and in addition many items have double glass in front of them. It is hard to work out how to enjoy miniatures, without any risk. I feel guilty that most of mine are in old shoe-boxes!!

  3. First, it must be said the wall mounted collection of the Spanish collector is very impressive to say the least. As a novice collector I can only hope to amass such a fine collection.

    As with the first comment I too have a concern about a wall mounted display. The effect of lighting, direct or indirect, in promoting fading is a personal fear. But this may not be such a concern due to the indirect lighting. For myself I keep my budding collection in padded wood boxes. I never view them in direct daylight except in the morning. All painting are fragile and vulnerable to light and age damage.

    A second concern is the close wall mounted display arrangement. In museums paintings are surrounded by space to allow one to appreciate a specific artwork. With a closely arranged wall display the individual miniatures are so close together as to create a montage effect.
    In effect I feel I am viewing a forest and not appreciating the individual trees.

    Because the portraits are miniatures spacing is even more important to preserve the individuality of the artworks.

    In closing I wish to stress again the very impressive and enviable nature of the Spanish collection. Truely a product of a serious experienced collector.