May 2012 - Seen in the Marketplace

A number of miniature portraits have been sold at auction in the last month or two which may be of interest to collectors.

As followers of my comments here will know, I tend to concentrate mainly on American miniatures portraits as there is little available scholarship on the subject and my comments are therefore an endeavor to make more information available, and sometimes they disagree with attributions in museum collections or on miniatures offered for sale. (As an aside, I have noticed that some Museums are reluctant to accept revised attributions, even where they are palpably wrong!)

One colorful and naive miniature of a lady in profile showing here had been included in an album of photographs, but was sold separately. As such it had unfortunately been cut down in size. The seller did not recognise the artist, but the bidders did, as it sold for $1,549.50. If not cut down and still in its original wooden frame it would have sold for even more, as it was painted by the very distinctive artist, James Sandford Ellsworth.

Collectors should be aware that some resellers of miniatures change the frames of some items to make them seem more valuable. The first image of this miniature of a lady showing a red braid border is not very clear, but the miniature was offered on eBay in February 2012 as a Buy It Now for $145.

The miniature appears to be a British miniature and was purchased by a vendor who re-offered it on eBay in March 2012 with an attribution to the American artist Isaac Sheffield.and sold for $667. However, I doubt it was by Sheffield.

Two more American miniatures were these of a man and a young girl. That of the man was attributed to Justus DaLee. I have doubts about the attribution and this was shared by bidders as it sold for $255.

In contrast, the miniature of the young girl was sold as by an unknown artist. However, while I am not 100% certain, I believe the miniature to be by Clarissa Peters Russell, also known as Mrs Moses B Russell. Other collectors seemed to be of the same opinion as it sold for $442, still a very reasonable price for a miniature by that artist.

A further selection of American miniatures by unattributed artists have also been sold on eBay.

The set of three were sold for $2151.77 which seems a reasonable price for such a named family group. It should be possible to attribute them to an artist, but no artist have quickly come to mind.

The man on the left was identified on an old inscription as “Capt. James Woodham of New York died 1831 by J W Jarvis”. However, in this case the vendor prudently pointed out that the miniature was unlikely to be by Jarvis. Again, no artist came to mind and the miniature sold for $473.

The man on the right was well identified with an inscription on the bottom that reads: "Henry Waning / Born Mch. 27, 1763 / Died 1797 / "Knickerbocker" / of Old New York / (Gerat, Great / Grandfather / of Edward & George)." This sold for for $536. Although I cannot pick the artist, I believe the same artist painted a miniature portrait of John Shubael Bell which is in this collection, see Unknown - portrait of John Shubael Bell By accumulating similar portraits, it may become possible in the future to determine the artist.

As an indication that even major auction houses can miss important miniature portraits, this miniature of a soldier was offered by Pook & Pook with the description; "Miniature oval watercolor on ivory portrait of a gentleman dressed in military garb, 18th c., with a locket of hair, inscribed with initials JLC, 3" h." and an estimate of $900-$1200.

Although I did not bid on the miniature, from the quality I believed it to be a miniature portrait by the acclaimed American artist, James Peale which if correctly attributed would likely sell for $8000-$12000 and so would be far too expensive for me to purchase. The quality of the miniature was far greater than the average American miniature. The lack of a signature obviously made an attribution a matter of judgement as James Peale normally signed his miniatures "I P" and the date; as a convention of the time was often to record "J" as "I". However, he did not sign all his miniatures.

The aspects making me believe it was by him were the quality, the pose, and the sitter's nose, as there is often a similarity in the way he painted noses. (Noses are also a good way to pick miniature portraits by John Ramage!) There is a miniature portrait in this collection by James Peale, see Peale, James - portrait of Dr Robert Hare and the similarity of pose is readily apparent there and in the numerous examples in the Metropolitan Museum collection.

I did a little research before the auction. I am not an expert on American military uniforms, but believed it to likely be an artillery officer. After some hunting, I found some modern examples that seemed to endorse that opinion, see I would think there is a fair chance that the sitter could be identified by the combination of his uniform and the initials JLC on the reverse.

As I expected other collectors recognised the artist and instead of the estimate of $900-$1200, it sold inclusive of buyer's commission for $8295. I still think that was a very reasonable price for such an outstanding miniature which would be significantly enhanced if the sitter can be identified.

It is sometimes possible to make an intelligent attribution for unsigned modern miniatures. This miniature of a young lady dressed in Chinese clothing looks to be Chinese at first glance.

However, I am inclined to agree with the vendor that it was painted by the American 20C artist, Lillian Reubena Deane. Her work is usually signed, but she prefers full length sitters in bright costume and with detailed backgrounds. Her signatures are very tiny and usually written vertically. It is possible this miniature is faintly signed in the vertical at the lower right.

There are three signed miniatures by her in this collection, including a self portrait on the far right dated 1900, see Deane, Lillian Reubena - portrait of herself - American Miniature ..., 20C - American Miniature Portraits: Deane, Lillian Reubena - portrait ..., and 20C - American Miniature Portraits: Deane, Lillian Reubena - portrait ...

For further comparison here are two more images of miniatures by her which appear on the Internet (I hope the owner does not mind them being included here).

The one on the left is titled Leonora and that on the right is a very fine self portrait by the artist titled "Reubie Deane" dated 1912, a dozen years after the earlier self-portrait above.

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