March 2013 - Additions and a new book

Followers of this collection may have noted that recently there have been fewer additions to the collection. This trend is likely to continue! In 'the good old days' of ten years ago, in 2000-2005, information about miniature portraits was sparse on the Internet and collectors buying on the Internet were uncommon.

A 'sad' day for buyers such as myself was when eBay altered its search criteria so that 'miniature' and 'miniatures' appeared on the same search. Prior to that they required separate searches and hence very few people thought to conduct two separate searches!

Since then artist information has increased and there are more knowledgeable collectors. The effect of the Global Financial Crisis has tended to suppress prices somewhat, but the wider interest has made it very much harder to find 'bargains' on the Internet. However, they do occasionally appear and encourage one to back one' s judgement.

This particular miniature was advertised on eBay by a specialist art dealer in Paris as;
 ANTIQUE French Empire Miniature Painting on Ivory Gentleman c1800 Ebonized Frame You are viewing an exquisite French miniature portrait of a gentleman circa 1790 to 1810. I have taken lots of closeup photographs to show the quality of the painting. The detail in the man's hair and scarf is exceptional. It comes with what looks like the original lacquered frame with an oval gilt brass surround and an oak and acorn hanger. The image measures approximately 3 x 2 1/3 inches; the frame measures approximately 6 x 5 1/4 inches. Both painting and frame show signs of wear consistent with an antique around 200 years old. Some chipping to the frame (which appears to be papier mache), and some scratching and paint oxidation to the portrait (please refer to photos or email me with specific condition questions). The piece comes with its convex glass which has no cracks or chips. Shipping will be $15 internationally from France. Please view my feedbacks and bid with confidence on this great European artwork.

Although this one of an unknown man was advertised in France, early miniatures did sometimes cross and recross the Atlantic with settlers or with residents returning to Europe.  In this instance, the distinctive style of the background made me believe it was by the noted American artist, Benjamin Trott (1770-1843). Despite some grubbiness and minor paint disturbance at the very bottom, at a price of $325 it was therefore a fortunate 'bargain'. The price being fair for an unknown artist, but enhanced by an attribution to Trott, which seems a fair and reasonable attribution, but it is always difficult to be 100% sure of an artist.

Trott lived in Philadelphia in 1806-1820. He was noted for the tousled hair of his sitters and after 1800 a technique of assured, dashing, fluid brushwork applied in natural, clear, colors. Backgrounds with a sky motif were created by floating on this washes of white and blue and leaving large areas of the ivory unpainted. These characteristics can be seen here.

There is in the Guest Gallery this right above portrait by Trott where a similar cloud effect can be seen and the effect can also be seen in various other portraits by Trott.   Guest Gallery: Trott, Benjamin - portrait of Dr John Floyd The Metropolitan Museum has this portrait of Charles Floyd by Trott to the right, which presumably depicts a brother of Dr John Floyd. The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Charles Floyd

Another interesting point about the new addition to this collection is the framing. I have written previously expressing views about the impact of the Embargo Act on American miniatures, and concern about those dealers who remove original frames and replace them with more attractive frames to enhance the selling value. Sometimes that is unavoidable if the frame is damaged, but I believe the 'make-do' frames of 1808-1812 are a special case and should be retained as legitimate and important evidence of the effects on trade of the Embargo Act. A search of this website will bring up more comments, such as those at 3 American Miniature Portraits: Unknown French artist - Unknown ...

In this instance a sliver of additional ivory can be seen on the extreme right of the unframed portrait. This was used to try and fill the observable view from the front, but from the rear it is obvious the case was still too large. This, and the use of an ebonised type frame, allows me to date the miniature as painted in Philadelphia in 1808-1812. The Embargo Act prevented the importation of oval gold casework from Britain. Artists often still had residual stock of blank ivory plaques, but new gold metal cases and glasses were unavailable.

It may surprise non-collectors to realise that early miniatures slightly vary in size and oval shape. As a result between 1808-1812 artists had to either make up cases from scrap material or use frames of slightly the wrong size. In this instance Trott needed to use an ebonised frame slightly too large and hence needed to add a sliver of ivory on the right. 1476

Benjamin Trott (1770-1843), miniature portrait of john baldwin large (1780-1866), Watercolor on ivory, gilt locket case. Accompanied by

Recently Cowan's Auctions advertised the right hand miniature of Henry Clay by Benjamin Trott with an estimate of $6000-$8000 despite it being cracked down the middle. This indicates how significant the sitter can be in establishing a price for a miniature portrait.  That on the left was sold as lot 475 by Freeman's for $10,000 in April 2010, it being a portrait of John Baldwin Large (1780-1866). However, both those prices seem rather high for Trott as an artist, so there may have been special circumstances. The Freeman's estimate was $3000-$5000 which seems more reasonable, although it has to be admitted miniatures by the better American artists are increasingly difficult to find.

As with other artists discussed, I believe there are debatable attributions in several museum collections. The NPG Collection at the Smithsonian includes six miniatures said to be by Benjamin Trott. They include these two which may be by Trott, but also show some similarities with the work of Joseph Wood (1778-1830). He also had a grey cloudy sky with blue splashes, but his portraits tend to use somewhat more intense, and slightly hence darker colors, so the backgrounds are a little less vibrant.

For more discussion about the work of Joseph Wood, and how that in turn is sometimes confused with that of Nathaniel Rogers (1787-1844) see April 2012 - Discussing Joseph Wood from portrait-miniature ... In the first years of the 19C century, 1797-1804, various artists were competing in New York at the time Trott was living there and so it is not surprising that there was some attempt to imitate the style of whosoever work was heard to be talked of by patrons, as the best artist to commission a portrait from.

Two other American miniature portraits recently added to this Artists and Ancestors Collection are;

3 American Miniature Portraits: Henri, Pierre - portrait of a lady  and  3 American Miniature Portraits: Unknown - portrait of young lady

They are discussed further at the highlighted links.

Another new book
Last month I mentioned new research into miniature portraits. This month I can mention yet another new resource. It is a wonderful book dedicated to the Italian miniature painter Faustino Boatti (1797-1857). I had not previously come across his work, but two specialists in Italian art history, Bernardo Falconi and Anna Maria Zuccotti have assembled a catalogue of his work which shows him as another talented Italian artist, but one whose fame and portraits seem largely to have been restricted to Italy.  For example, Blattel's Dictionary only mentions him as active in Milan in c1830. For such a body of work as is now assembled to be behind such a brief mention in such a comprehensive resource as Blattel, is an indication of how much more research is possible in the field of miniature portrait collecting.

The book is written in Italian, primarily for Italian collectors, but that does not detract from the over 80 miniatures depicted in full colour, many of them being full page images which each demonstrate the skill of the artist. At the same time proving the old adage, that if a miniature was magnified to life size, the quality and skill would still be apparent! The book is available from various sellers of art books including at this link; FAUSTINO BOATTI 1797-1857 : Un protagonista del ritratto in ...

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