March 2012 - Three Additions and the Slave Trade

Three miniature additions to the collection which were made last year have been effectively gathering dust, due to various interruptions which have meant the associated research remained incomplete. Time has now been found to complete the research as far as seemed practical and to then summarize it here.

The first is an American miniature portrait of a boy holding a toy gun. It is unusual to see an early American miniature of a child of any age, and particularly unusual to see one with a full length image.

Many miniatures of children are depicted among clouds which is a sign they were painted post mortem, but that is not the case here. Due to the rarity of the style and pose I have so far been unable to make an attribution by comparing it with similar miniatures.

It is possibly by Anson Dickinson. I say that as the cases of some of his early works show a print of a child on the silk lining. However, that is far from certain and it is hoped a collector of American miniature portraits can please suggest the artist to me. View

I do not think it is by Nathaniel Rogers as differences of style can be seen by comparison with this equally rare miniature of three children painted by Rogers c1820, which was discussed last year and where the boy has a similar collar, see View

The Slave Trade
As an aside I wonder how many collectors have realised that miniature portraits of the late 18C and early 19C have clear slave trade connections?

The normally quoted triangular trade was Europe to Africa to buy slaves, then the transfer and sale of the slaves in the West Indies and South America, with the third leg of the voyage to Europe carrying sugar and rum. Apart from buying slaves in Africa, the traders also bought elephant tusks, which were carried back to Europe and were subsequently used for various purposes, including as ivory blanks for miniature portraits.

After Britain passed laws against the slave trade, American owned slave ships became more prominent, carrying slaves to the American South and cotton to Britain for making into cloth. Hence those of you who have American or European miniature portraits from the 18C and early 19C most likely have in your possession part of the cargo of the slave traders, that is, in the form of elephant tusks subsequently thinly sawed into ivory blanks for miniature portraits.

Elsewhere I have commented upon the "make-do" miniature case-work of poor quality in America between 1808 and 1820, as case components and glasses could not be imported into America due to impact of the Embargo Act and the resultant War of 1812.

Despite this shortage, it will be realised that miniature painters did not experience a shortage of the actual ivory blanks they used, as ivory tusks continued to arrive, being brought from Africa by American slave traders.

The second addition is a miniature portrait is also painted on slave trade cargo and is by Pierre Henri (c1760-1822) who was born in Paris, France. He is also known as Peter Henry and is reported to have been shipwrecked in the West Indies before proceeding to New York in 1788.

Identifying the sitter has been assisted by a label on the reverse and portions of two letters that were acquired with the miniature. Although there is some element of doubt as which of two brothers is depicted.

The label on the reverse of the gold case appears to read "[Portrait] of John Gower [sic] Cowell grandson of Gen. Glover of Marblehead." with a number on the left "M - 839" which may be a dealer's inventory number. The name on the case has been given precedence here in identifying the sitter, although the portrait may be of his brother Richard, if an attached letter is taken as referring to this portrait.

John Glover Cowell (18 September 1785 – 18 April 1814) was the second son of Captain Richard Cowell and Hannah Glover (18 Apr 1761- 1809) who were married at Marblehead, Massachusetts on 7 March 1780. Their elder son, Richard was born on 25 July 1781 and from the letter, appears to have died on 10 September 1798 aged only 17. John Glover Cowell is remembered as an American hero with several United States Navy ships named for him. For more see View

This third addition is a rare miniature portrait of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). He was one of the major English Romantic poets and is critically regarded as among the finest lyric poets in the English language. Shelley was famous for his association with John Keats and Lord Byron. The novelist Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, was his second wife.

The miniature is in a contemporary frame which is inscribed "Percy B Shelley 1792-1822". The style does look a little German and is perhaps by a German artist working in Britain, or was even painted when Shelley was traveling in Europe. The writing style of the engraving appears consistent with a date of around 1825 and on balance it is regarded as a genuine and previously unknown portrait of Percy Shelley. For more about it see View

Product Display

Although I have no connection to the product, I have been sent details of a new product that may be of interest to those looking for a special way of storing miniature portraits or similar items, or a suitable package for gifting such items.

In case it is of interest, here is are some views of it. I regret that I have no idea of the pricing.

For anyone interested, the contact details as provided to me are as below.

Nancy Potter, Principal
Kirschner Caroff Design, Inc.
3100 County Route 9
East Chatham, New York 12060
518-392-3823 Studio
518-392-3825 Fax
914-843-2721 Cell

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