November 2010 - Nathaniel Rogers at auction

One of the best, and most prolific, American miniature painters of the early 19C was Nathaniel Rogers (1787-1844). Rogers first exhibited at the American Academy of Fine Arts in 1817 and thereafter was a regular contributor. As he rarely signed his work, attributing his miniatures can be a challenge for those unfamiliar with his work.

However, for those collectors who recognize his miniature portraits, his style, although changing as his career developed, is very distinctive, although it is a bit difficult to explain what makes it so distinctive. I think probably it is his soft perfection, with his distinctive style best explained and understood by comparing the eyes of his various sitters. Certainly his work is appealing and most collections have at least one example. The Metropolitan Museum has 19 miniature portraits by Rogers and the Smithsonian has three examples. 

The difficulties for those preparing auction catalogs without expert knowledge of miniature portrait artists, are illustrated by miniature portraits sold by four different auctioneers in October/November 2010.

The four sales included six miniatures by Nathaniel Rogers, none of which were picked by the auction houses. Hence most of the lots had low estimates. This naturally represented a good buying opportunity for collectors, that is if no other dealer or collector recognized the work of Rogers! It is quite uncommon that six examples should appear in such a short time. Usually, only one or two of Rogers' miniatures come on to the market each year.

The first was sold by Cowan's Auctions. The description being; "Lot 278 Noyes Darling Portrait Miniature on Ivory Connecticut, 1812, portrait miniature on ivory of young gentleman, copper frame engraved on verso identifies sitter as Noyes Darling/1812, also on verso an aperture containing woven hair and on the glass is script initials of N D); 2.25 x 2.75 in. Research finds Noyes Darling of Woodbridge, New Haven County, Conn. ran on the 1819, New Haven Democratic ticket for Representative with Ralph I. Ingersoll, for Senator was Jared Bassett. He was also, Member of Connecticut state senate, 1825-27, 1830-31. Estimate $1500-$2500"

This was an early miniature by Rogers, and although, not described as by Rogers, that fact was noticed by buyers, with the added importance of the named sitter achieving an excellent hammer price of $6000.

Another interesting one by Rogers, also important as an identified sitter, was of Mrs Anna M Jarvis.

The auction description was; Freemans Auction, Lot 17. "American School 19th century. Miniature portrait of Mrs Anna M Jarvis. Unsigned watercolor on ivory, gilt metal locket frame inscribed "Mrs Anna M Jarvis, wife of James Jarvis, 1810." 2 5/8 in x 2 1/4 in. $500-$700."

Significant about this portrait, is that Nathaniel Rogers was for a time in partnership with Joseph Wood (1778-1830), who had previously been in partnership with John Wesley Jarvis (1780-1840). Hence, although I have not researched the relationship between James Jarvis and John Wesley Jarvis, it is probable that they were closely related.

At the auction it was clear that collectors and/or dealers had recognized Rogers' work, as it sold for $2250 inclusive of buyer's commission, four times the low estimate. I think this was a cheap price for a known sitter worthy of more research.

Lest anyone think these were expensive, the same sale included a miniature portrait by Charles Peale of General Daniel Morgan, which sold for $85,000 to an Institution for three times the pre-sale estimate. This example shows the value attributable to famous sitters, it being remembered each miniature portrait is unique; unlike rare coins, bank-notes, or postage stamps, and quality items are becoming scarcer, as more are purchased for museum collections.

Another Nathaniel Rogers miniature was sold by Neal Auction Company.

The auction description was Neal Auction; Lot 1160. "American School, 19th c., "Portrait of a Gentleman", miniature watercolor on ivory, unsigned, lock of hair under glass en verso of frame, 2 3/4 in. x 2 1/4 in., in original frame, all set within a velvet lined presentation case. $200/300."

It is a very nice portrait and again the artist was picked by dealers and/or collectors, so it sold for $2440 inclusive of commission, ten times the low estimate.

Unsuccessful bids were made on two of the above lots for this collection. However, they were relatively modest bids, just in case no one had recognized the artist! - And handicapped by being overspent, after being fortunate enough to win other Rogers miniatures offered at a third art auction, just two weeks earlier.

They were part of a lot offered by Kaminski Auctions, where none of the artists were identified by the auctioneers.

The auction description was; Kaminski Auctions; "Lot: 3395 - Description: Six (6) miniature portraits, watercolor on ivory, largest is 3 1/4" x 2 1/2". Three (3) have cracked ivory; not examined out of frames. Estimate $300~500"

Although three miniatures were cracked, the lot was sold for a hammer price of $3100, another instance where the sale price was ten times the low estimate. The miniature at the top left is the only identified sitter. From an inscription on the reverse, his name appears to be Robert Bloomfield. Initially, the miniature could not be attributed, but a kind authority on American miniatures has since advised it appears to be an early Nathaniel Rogers. Rogers is believed to have met Anson Dickinson in Connecticut before moving to New York in 1807, where he took instruction from P Howell and Uriah Brown, before becoming an apprentice to Joseph Wood in 1811. Thus, Rogers' early work was influenced by those artists, and this can be seen in the Robert Bloomfield miniature. Although the damage adversely affects its value, the miniature does have interest as a named sitter and an early example by Rogers.

Rogers quickly developed his own style, maturing into that of the man on the right and the lady at the bottom left, which are also by Rogers, most likely a husband and wife pair. Although they are in replacement frames their condition is very good for miniatures 200 years old, and better than appears in the above image, as they benefited from the glasses being cleaned. The lady is very similar in appearance to the miniature of Matilda Few of c1815, owned by the Metropolitan Museum, so she and her husband probably date to around 1815. That makes them quite early works by Rogers, as Rogers took over Joseph Wood's practice in 1814. The CAA at the Gibbes Museum owns another Rogers miniature of a not too dissimilar lady named Martha Johnson, which must date to around 1815.

The fact of the two Rogers miniatures being in replacement frames itself is of interest. As I have discussed elsewhere, the art of miniature painting and the obtaining of artist's materials were adversely impacted upon by the Embargo Act and the War of 1812. Ivory itself does not seem to have been hard to obtain, but frames were imported from Britain. From the passing of the Embargo Act, until the aftermath of the 1812 War had passed, the reduced number of miniatures painted during this period tended to be housed in "make-do" frames, made of whatever local materials and scraps were available. These were not well enough or purpose made to last, and hence miniatures painted between 1808 and 1818 have often been given replacement cases. A personal opinion is that genuine "make-do" frames dating from between 1808 and 1818 are important historical relics in their own right, and they should be retained, if a miniature of the period is found housed in one of them.

The man on the left was also in good condition, either British or American, he has not yet been attributed to an artist. The other two cracked miniatures include one by Robert Field and a lady by Edward Miles. Although in poor condition, the two are still helpful for reference purposes.

The fortunate purchase of the three Rogers miniatures at the Kaminski auction, brings the total of Rogers miniatures in this collection to eight. The one of the pretty young lady is especially welcome as "pretty ladies and children" are much harder to find than "boring old men", the previous acquisitions all being males.

The others are shown here in approximate time of painting, so that the development of Rogers style can be seen. The second one is in a "make-do" case of around 1815 with an extra fillet, and the others range through to the rectangular one dating to about 1830, which has an unusual background very similar in style to two portraits of ladies by Rogers in the Metropolitan collection.

Over time, Rogers tended to move from a more angular, gaunt and unsmiling style, reminiscent of Joseph Wood and appropriate to the United States during the time of the 1807 Embargo Act and the resultant War of 1812, to a well-fed and rosy cheeked appearance, with a hint of a smile, during the following years of peace and prosperity! This latter period was a time when more people could afford to have miniatures painted and hence most of Rogers miniatures date from between 1820 and 1835, with his output seeming to cease just prior to the advent of the cold wind of photography. Rogers was only 57 when he died, so could have been even more prolific had he lived longer.
Rogers, Nathaniel - portrait of David Ryerson
Rogers, Nathaniel - portrait of Dana Eleutheros Comstock
Rogers, Nathaniel - portrait of a man
Rogers, Nathaniel - portrait of Master Bucknell
Rogers, Nathaniel - portrait of a young man

Although the vendors of the above lots sold in October/November 2010 were probably pleased they sold for so much above estimate, if an auctioneer does attribute a miniature to Nathaniel Rogers, the price can go even higher.

In February 2007, Skinners offered this miniature by Rogers. It was described as; Portrait Miniature of "W.A. in the 26th year of his age," attributed to Nathaniel Rogers (American 1788-1844), "Taken Nov, 12, 1827," subject date and artist identified in inscriptions on the reverse, watercolor on ivory, showing a bust-length oval portrait of the man facing right wearing a navy jacket with brass buttons, white shirt and cravat, 2 3/4 x 2 1/4 in., in a period mahogany frame with gilt brass liner. Condition: Very good. Note: Nathaniel Rogers was one of New York City's leading miniaturists in the early 19th century. Estimate $1,000-1,500".

As a result of the strong attribution, the miniature sold for $4,993 including commission.

It is not long ago that Rogers work was modestly priced. In October 1996, Christie's sold two attributed miniatures by Rogers, one being very special, for an average of $3000, and  and in 1999 Christie's sold nine Rogers miniatures at prices ranging from $630 to $2235, with an average of around $1300.

Perhaps an earlier record auction high for Rogers was achieved by Bonhams in 2005 when they sold lot 69; "Nathaniel Rogers (American, 1787-1844) - Christopher Columbus Boardman, wearing a dark grey jacket with brass buttons, pale yellow waistcoat, white shirt and stock gilt-mounted black papier-mâché frame, the reverse inscribed, Christopher Columbus Boardman/ b.19 March 1806 Troy NY/ died 16 June 1838 Hartford Conn./ Left to Kenneth Boardman by/ his (CCB's) daughter Clara Frances/ (Boardman) Harvey who died/ November 10, 1907. Rectangular, 76mm. (3ins.) high". Inclusive of commission the auction price was GBP4560, say $7000.

Bonhams sold another Rogers miniature in November 2007 as lot 315; "Nathaniel Rogers (American, 1788-1844)- A Gentleman, wearing black coat, white waistcoat and cravat. Signed on the obverse Rogers, chased foliate gilt-metal frame, the reverse with off-set aperture to reveal black silk. Oval, 70mm (2 3/4in) high. The auction price achieved by Bonhams was GBP1920, say $3000.

Grogan and Company Auctions sold a Rogers miniature of a man in 2009 for $2300. Thus, post the financial crisis, the auction value of Rogers' unattributed work, of an unidentified sitter in good condition, appears to be in the $2000 to $3000 range. However, if they had been attributed to Rogers by the auctioneers, they may have achieved $2500-$3500 each. Compared to auction values of, say $1300, achieved in the mid 1990's it seems they have increased at a reasonable rate for anyone who has held them as investment items. They are rarely available for retail sale, but if so, current retail asking values for unidentified sitters but well attributed to Rogers, would probably be in the order of $3000-$5000, with perhaps $6000-8,000 for an important sitter.

Restoration of the Nathaniel Rogers House in Bridgehampton NY is officially underway. The house was built for Rogers in 1842 and known as Hampton House. Its magnificence gives a idea of how important he was as an artist. The house has apparently suffered from deferred maintenance and so the restoration is welcome. These days, the price of the exterior stabilization will be $1.9 million, but that's just a drop in the ionic column compared to the renovation's total expected cost of $4.5 million. Of that sum, the historical society already has commitments of $2.2 million, including $1.1 million from Southampton Town over the next three years. Another $850,000 has come from private donors, and $250,000 from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The building has been listed on the National and New York State Registers of Historic Places.

It is intended to hold a major exhibition of his work in the house on completion. Successful and sympathetic restoration of the project may lead to a resurgence of interest in Rogers who, as with other miniature painters of the 19C and early 20C, has been much under-rated as an artist. The Project welcomes donations.

Restoration of the Nathaniel Rogers House in Bridgehampton NY is officially underway. Scaffolding went up last Thursday in preparation for the removal and restoration of the front columns, which is the first phase of the restoration.
Nathaniel Rogers House Preservation Project

For those interested, there is an extensive article about Rogers at;

The Legacy of Nathaniel Rogers (1787-1844) Long Island Artist from ...

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