July 2013 - Recent American miniatures on eBay

Several interesting miniature portraits by American artists have appeared on eBay recently.

The first was this fine portrait of a young lady in a black dress. Unfortunately the bezel and glass were missing. It is inscribed 'Geo Catlin 1829 - one of the Seymours' and the vendor believed it to be of Emma Hart Seymour (1808-1842). It sold for $6600 after 39 bids, a sign of the high values that quality American miniatures can sell for.

While I have no reason to doubt the sitter, there were varying opinions of the artist. Although it bears a Catlin signature, there were suggestions this was added later and it was actually by another fine artist, John Wood Dodge. I concede it does look like the work of JWD, but my knowledge of the work of Catlin is insufficient to determine which was the artist. The hammer price would seem reasonable for either artist.    
The next American miniature portrait appears to be well signed and identified, but the signature is difficult to read. The vendor initially believed it read 'Wm N Cotanl, Wilmington, N.C, Aug 29 1840, Charles Bass Ring, age 16, 30 ... 1840', but after further research believed it was by William H Coutant.

The miniature sold for $4150, another indication of the high values attached to either top, or unusual, artists.

For auction at the time of writing is a pair of American miniature portraits of Henry & Sarah Marie Higgins, New Haven Ct. 1 Signed. J.W. Jarvis 1818, the other dated 1814. From A Windham, Ct. Estate.

John Wesley Jarvis (1781-1839) was the father of Charles Wesley Jarvis (1812-1868). The condition leaves something to be desired, but it will be interesting to see the final price, currently at $183.

However, rare miniatures can still get past the experts, and be purchased for very reasonable prices. This miniature portrait in a large shadow-box frame was offered as unsigned, and identified as, "David Swope, Grandfather of Frank E. Swope". The purchaser was delighted to buy it for $215-50.

He then sent me a message 'Low and behold when I got that miniature in that was in the big frame, cleaned all the felt off the face, there is a signature scratched lower left. Can’t quite descern...looks to me like G. or Y. Spieler or Spirler or Spioler or it may not even be an S at the beginning of the last name.'

I was able to check Blattel for the new owner and advise him the signature appeared to be that of George Spieler who was active in Philadelphia in 1839-1840.Thus it was an excellent buy, despite a little paint loss.

I do get asked about damaged miniatures from time to time. The above one with a little paint loss and the next, which is cracked, are two good examples to discuss. The minor paint loss is insignificant and quite easily remedied, provided one is careful.

 This next one is of Sibilla Stone Morris, by Anna Claypoole Peale, signed on the reverse with her married name 'Mrs A C Staughton Philadelphia 1836'. There is some paint damage and a vertical stress fracture. The miniature sold for its reserve price of $900 which, despite the damage, I think is still a good buy. Anna was a member of a very famous family and works by her are rare.

As with any aspect of collecting, collectors seek perfection, but as I have noted before, it is unrealistic to expect miniature paintings on ivory to remain perfect for over 200 years. Nothing else of that age can be found as perfect and most large paintings of that period will require some restoration. Thus I think that collectors should look past legitimate conditions attributed to age and consider the artist and sitter as originally painted.  With some restoration it will be a fine example for a collection.
The final American miniature in this selection is currently for sale on eBay with a Buy-it-now price of $6500. The vendor describes it as by Benjamin Trott. Visitors to this website may recollect I recently wrote a piece about the purchase of a Benjamin Trott at 3 American Miniature Portraits: Trott, Benjamin - portrait of a man

I am undecided as to whether the miniature now for sale is by Trott, as it may instead be by Joseph Wood. A year ago I (figuratively) put pen to paper about Joseph Wood at April 2012 - Discussing Joseph Wood - 2009/2013 - Additions and ...
an artist whose work I believe has been inadequately researched, who has been a 'catch-all' for a number of miniatures by other artists and whose miniatures are often mixed up with the work of Nathaniel Rogers who I wrote about at November 2010 - Nathaniel Rogers at auction - 2009/2013 ...

Trott, Wood, and Rogers all worked in New York around the same time and hence it can sometimes become difficult to differentiate between their work. As will evident in the above 'papers', in my opinion some examples in the Metropolitan Museum and in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery have been wrongly attributed. Hopefully, a museum expert on American miniatures will be willing to give this branch of American art the attention it deserves and build on my three amateur attempts to sort out their work and publish a catalogue at some time.

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