August - Ethel Frances Mundy - a wax portrait miniature

[Apologies to followers who have been wondering why I have not posted recently. I did post this wax miniature portrait in the American 3 Gallery during August, but forgot to link it to 2009/2010 additions.]

As suggested previously, miniature portraits are a much under-rated art form. And within that category, even more under-rated, and even rarer, are miniature portraits in wax. The most famous American wax portrait artist was Patience Wright (1735-1793), but others included Johann Christopher Rauschner (1760-c1830) and Robert Ball Hughes (1806-1868). However, the art died well before Hughes' death, a victim of the daguerreotype.

This wax example is by the American artist Ethel Frances Munday (1876-1964) and is the only example by her I have ever seen. The image inside the frame is 15cm (6 ins) in diameter. It was sculpted in 1934 and the sitter is Katharine Morris Young. [to date I have been unable to better identify Katharine and would be grateful to anyone with knowledge of her. I also apologize that the preliminary image suffers badly from reflections and therefore does not convey the quality and detail of the work, and hope to substitute a better one]. At the top it is inscribed "Katharine Morris Young - MCMXXXIV" and at the bottom "ETHEL MUNDY FECIT".

Her technique involved taking a metal plate covered with a thin coating of wax, and outlining the subject in profile with a sharp point. Then slowly building up the figure with particles of beeswax tinted with various colours. The materials were not expensive, but her work was painstaking, so she only managed several commissions each year. I have a copy of a letter from her of November 29, 1928 seeking to arrange an exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery. In the letter she says her miniatures vary in size from four to nine inches in diameter and are best viewed with cross lighting.

Her work deserves to rank with the highest rank of 20C American miniature artists, such as Laura Coombs Hills and Eulabee Dix, but Mundy lacks that recognition as her work is so rare. It seems no major American museum has even a single portrait by her. As can be seen in the article which appeared in Popular Mechanics of April 1921, most of her works were of similar style, although she also made busts.

The complete item about Ethel Frances Mundy is at  View   

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