December - Market sales

When commenting about Nathaniel Rogers, I noted that a strong attribution to a respected artist increases the value of a miniature portrait.

This is particularly true in the American market, where there were few artists active 1760-1840 and hence quality examples are rare. The top ranked artists are E G Malbone, Charles Peale, and James Peale.

In December 2010, Michaan's Auctions of Alameda, CA sold Lot 1245, a Portrait Miniature of J. Mathewson, which had descended through the family. Although unsigned, the auctioneer picked the artist, realizing it was painted by Edward Greene Malbone. The portrait was in lovely condition and the estimate was $4,000 - $6,000.

The starting bid of $2000 rapidly rose to a hammer price of $16,000. This appears to be a further sign of increasing values for miniatures by top artists.

It is interesting to compare the value of the "real thing" with this well-painted copy of a self-portrait of Malbone which was recently sold on eBay for £275.

The original of this Malbone self portrait appears as the frontispiece of Ruel Tolman's biography, "The Life and Works of Edward Greene Malbone". This biography itself is now quite rare, although second-hand copies are often available for purchase on Abebooks. For example, and for those interested, I currently notice there are eight copies available there for prices of $95 to $225.

Another excellent price was recently achieved for a miniature portrait, when Freemans sold a miniature described as "After Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) - miniature portrait of revolutionary general Daniel Morgan (1736-1802) - Watercolor on ivory, gilt locket case bearing the bright-cut initials "D.M" on verso, hinged leather case. 1 3/4 in. x 1 1/2 in. This miniature portrait closely resembles the portrait of Gen. Daniel Morgan painted from life , circa 1794, by Charles Willson Peale, in the collection of the Independence National Historic Park. Estimate $25,000-35,000.

Although Freemans had described it as being by a follower of Peale, buyers must have been satisfied it was a copy of the oil portrait by Peale himself, as the miniature sold for $70,000 plus commission. Apparently the buyer was an institution. This is an example of a work that is now no longer available to the private market.

In April 2010 Freemans sold as Lot 281 a miniature by James Peale (1749-1831), being a portrait miniature of John Thomas Harris, Jr. It was signed and dated, "IP 1802," watercolor on ivory, gilt locket case with plaited hair and cipher, "JH," at back. 2 1/2 in. x 2 3/8 in. The miniature descended through the family to the present owner. Estimate $10,000-15,000.

The miniature sold for $13,750, a healthy price including the buyer's commission. In April concerns about the economy were a little greater than now, with a subsequent rise in the Dow Index since then. Thus the value of the James Peale miniature is probably higher now.

Quality miniatures are already rare, and with the auction prices achieved by the EG Malbone and the CW Peale, it seems that market values will continue to increase. As miniatures by these artists gravitate into institutional collections, it will become even harder for private collectors to obtain examples. Likely leading to a flow on effect to availability and hence values, for the next tier of artists.

The above examples were known sitters, which as with the Morgan, can considerably enhance the value.

Even values for third ranked artists are starting to increase.

As with this miniature of an unknown sitter, described as "A super fine and handsome gentleman miniature portrait painting. It is a watercolor on natural substrate, signed and dated Doyle 1810 (inscribed into paint) lower left. The painting is by Massachusetts miniature artist William M.S. Doyle (1769-1828)".

The case is a particularly fine example of the period, and the miniature sold on eBay for $1228.

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