Tuesday

November 2014 - John Smart and Charles Willson Peale

John Smart at Philip Mould 
Most collectors of miniature portraits will have an opinion on who was the best artist, with many agreeing that the best British artist was John Smart. There is currently a brief opportunity to view and/or buy from a selection of fine works by him collected over many years. An opportunity to view a collection like this, especially all with the items being available for sale, is unlikely to be repeated in the foreseeable future.

As has been mentioned in the print media, see press or  http://online.flipbuilder.com/lawrence/nncx/ an exhibition ‘John Smart: A Genius Magnified’ arranged by Emma Rutherford and Philip Mould (the art dealer who appears on the popular TV programme Fake or Fortune) has opened to the public in London and can be viewed until 9th December, 2014. The exhibition showcases forty-five portrait miniatures and drawings from a single-owner collection and represents the biggest collection of miniatures by Smart to be offered on the open market for almost a century. An online version of the catalogue (without essays) can be viewed by clicking here. A price list can be viewed here, although it is highly recommended you get in touch with Emma promptly as she has been overwhelmed by the amount of interest so far. To order a hard copy of the catalogue to be sent via post, please email by clicking here.


In its nature the collection is just as important as other major collections, such as the collection of Smart's work in the Edward B Greene Collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Even more impressive is the Starr Collection of Miniatures in Kansas City, where there is a collection of John Smart miniature portraits which includes dated examples for every year from 1760-1810. There are printed catalogues for both these collections, which were published in 1951 and 1971, and which occasionally can be purchased via Abebooks for those interested.

Regular visitors to this site, will be aware that earlier this year the single miniature portrait below on paper of General Thomas Bruce by John Smart was purchased for this Artists and Ancestors collection. http://british-miniatures.blogspot.co.nz/2014/09/smart-john-portrait-of-general-thomas.html That was a highlight for this collector, as neither the vendor, nor the other bidders at the auction, realised the miniature was by John Smart.


American collectors will have their own opinions about the best artist who worked in America. To perhaps help enable a comparison of John Smart and Charles Willson Peale, this collector was then fortunate enough to purchase at an on-line eBay auction a miniature portrait by Charles Willson Peale. http://aminports3.blogspot.com/2014/09/peale-charles-willson-portrait-of.html Again the vendor did not realise who the artist was, but this time another bidder did realise that Peale was the artist, so there was some competition, although it was still able to be acquired for this collection at well below the normal market value. Its condition is a little less than perfect, but at an age of 250 years that is perhaps to be expected.

The two miniature portraits by Peale and Smart as depicted here, were acquired within two months of each other, and were offered for auction by vendors who did not know what they were selling. That is the best possible recommendation for collectors to study miniatures sufficiently well to be able to back their instincts when an unattributed work comes onto the market. Although on a minor (miniature!) scale, the personal thrill of making a successful purchase and attribution against expert international competition, is considerable and, even without the same degree of $$$ or £££ signs, is perhaps comparable to the reaction of those owners of major works who receive a "thumbs up" from Philip Mould when subjected to his Fake or Fortune test.

Welcome to a Free Art Exhibition of Portrait Miniatures

[Welcome to new followers who saw this site on Blogs of Note for July 6, 2010. I hope you find the subject fascinating. I am willing to answer questions about miniatures and I get several questions each week. Click on my profile for the address. Questions are often from people who have portraits of ancestors, or found a miniature in a drawer. Check back, as I try to add at least one post a month containing market information or about additions to the collection.]

Thus read on as, in a user friendly format, the website displays a private collection of miniature portraits. A kind visitor has emailed; "It is definitely the best online art website that I have found yet."

But before exploring, please take a few seconds to imagine yourself 200 years ago, with no computers, no television, no films, no photographs, and no color printing in magazines or newspapers. Consider how unique these miniature paintings were, in capturing likenesses we now take for granted, and think how few other delicate objects of that age have lasted so well.

The Exhibition should appeal to art lovers, family historians, and fashion historians who can study hairstyles and clothing, changing over the centuries. Increasingly, the website focuses on known sitters and represents a new view of history, by "stepping through the back of a portrait".

If necessary, please wait a minute or so for the Slideshow Previews to appear (hopefully! - some browsers may have problems) and click to start. They show examples of miniatures on the left by American artists, and on the right by British and European artists. More miniatures are included in the various Gallery Links to the right, reached by clicking on the blue hyperlinks.


There are over 800 miniatures in the collection from America, Britain and Europe. All being easy to view and arranged in separate Galleries. In addition, hundreds more fine miniatures in other private collections can be accessed via links on the right. The exhibition format is:

1 Introduction to Miniatures
2 Copy, Fake, and Decorative Miniatures
3 Miniatures and the Photograph
4 Focus of the Collection
5 Additions and Comment since 2009
6 Guest Gallery
7 History of the Collection
8 Highlights
9 American Galleries
10 British Galleries
11 European Galleries
12 Art Collecting Links
13 Bibliography

For more detail click on the blue links above or on the right under Gallery Links. Alternatively, use the Site Search box to search for artists, sitters, or key words. To email me with questions about miniatures, just click on my photo for a link. As a service to collectors, I do not charge for brief inquiries, but am also willing to advise collectors wishing to dispose of collections of miniatures.

The 2008 entries can be seen consecutively in 2008 Additions and Comment or items of interest can be selected below. (Research being like a detective story, the major items really do feel like cases!). Entries for 2009-2011 can also be seen, starting at 2009 Additions and Comment


The following slide-shows depicts some portraits acquired for the collection.


Posts during 2010
December - Auction news - View
November - Nathaniel Rogers at auction - View 
November - Two additions - View 
October - Three additions - View 
September - Two additions - View
August - Rare wax portrait by Ethel Frances Mundy - View 
July - Rare miniature on porcelain and new information - View
July - Expanded research on recent additions - View
June - Items of interest and more on Barratt fakes - View
June - Is the case original? - View
May - Fakes and items of interest - View
April - Recent sales noted - View
March - Horace Walpole on Samuel Cooper - View
March - A new book and some modern fakes - View
March - Current news - View
February - That book again! - View
January - Mainly American miniatures - View

[- Re the Carlisle book!
For more see
The Real Mr Frankenstein

The inspiration for the biography was the purchase of a miniature portrait of Carlisle for this collection, and it is shown here on the cover. The research has been fascinating and incredible, but also sobering, as it including the uncovering of a series of murders of pregnant women by famous men midwives of the 18C. This truly is an example where truth is stranger than fiction.

The book has been published in .pdf format as an eBook and is now available for purchase for £9.99 [GBP9.99] at The Real Mr Frankenstein

The Second Edition runs to 470 pages, with 300 illustrations. Research is ongoing, and this latest edition available for download via E-Junkie.com, contains substantial updates.]

Posts during 2009
December - Some additions - View
November - A record price and a sad story - View
October - Buyer Beware - how to waste $18,000 - View
October - The Real Mr Frankenstein now published! - View
September - Modern miniatures and research - View
August - Stolen miniatures - View
August - The Real Mr Frankenstein and wearing a miniature - View
August - A new book and a question about condition - View
July - Additions and market comment - View
June - An addition and some queries - View
May - Market snippets and more on fakes - View
April - Magazine articles on American miniatures - View
April - Snippets and painting miniatures - View
March - Snippets and an addition - View
February - The Yves St Laurent sale - View
February - Market place and an addition - View
January - An addition and various comments - View
2008
December - Annual Review for 2008 - View
December - Additions to the collection - View
December - The market- fake and genuine miniatures - View
November - Fake and genuine miniatures in the market place - View
November - Two additions - View
November- "Blog Following" and the market place - View
November - Miniatures of George Washington - fake and genuine. - View
November - Art of Mourning - View
October - The Case of the 4th Earl, the Harem, and the Great Art Fraud - View
October - A Spanish miniature portrait collection - View
October - The Market for Miniatures - View
October - More from the Market - View
September - A likely fake and the real Mr Frankenstein - View
September - The Case of the American Count and the Cookbook - View
September - New exhibition in Germany - View
August - American additions to the collection - View
August - Fakes, condition issues, and the market place - View
August - Preview - Comstock, Conger, Starr, and Stout families - View
August - The impact of the 1807 Embargo Act on miniatures - View
August - The Case of the Cabinet-Maker's Daughter - View
July - Researching sitters and decorative miniatures - View
July - American additions and Mr Darcy - View
July - The Case of Isaac Buckingham and The People vs McCool - View
June - Market place and miscellany - View
June - Additions to the collection and research - View
June - The Case of the Military Matriarch - View
May - Exhibitions, new literature, stolen miniature - View
May - New and recent literature on miniatures - View
May - Twenty years on the trail of William Douglas - View
May - Research and literature - View
May - American additions to the collection - View
May - The Case of the Speed Family and Abraham Lincoln - View
May - New Research and trivia - View
April - New dictionary of French miniature painters - View
April - The American market place - View
April - Une Collection Francaise - View Blog
April - Additions to the collection - View
April - Market place and other things - View
April - Miniature portrait of Benjamin West - View
April - Fakes and decorative miniatures - View
April - The Case of the von Cramon family and the Hitler bomb plot - View
March - Miscellany and more on museums - View
March - Additions to the collection - View
March - Market place - View
March - The exhibition of eBay Boycott Art - View
March - The Case of the British Rodin - View
February - Additions to the collection - View
February - The Case to Open the Museum Doors! - View
February - Stolen miniature portraits - View
February - Harriet Josephine Turner - View
February - Market place - View
January - Blue eyes, record price, - View
January - A forgotten family story - View
January - Additions to the collection - View
January - The Case of Walter Robertson - View

See also the Annual Review for 2007 and some previous cases below from:

An Art Collector's Casebook:

The Case of the Coal Mining Family from Ohio - View
The Case of the Lady Sculptor from Boston - View
The Case of the Mark Twain Portrait - View
The Case of the Link between Pocahontas and George Washington - View
The Case of the Lord Mayor of Melbourne - View
The Case of the Slave Trader's Widow - View
The Case of the Scandalous 19C Divorce - View
The Case of the Painter Princess - View
The Case of the 15 year old Eloping Heiress - View
The Case of the Gift from Napoleon - View
The Case of the Unknown Victoria Cross Winner - View
The Case of the Forgotten Author - View
The Case of the Chemistry Professor and the Spirit Mediums - View
The Case of the Portrait of Aaron Burr - View
The Case of the Governor's Grand March - View

(Please note that Copyright for all portraits and written content on this website and its subsidiary pages remains with the Owner, but images may be copied for private or educational research with an appropriate credit or an Internet link to this website. Clicking on About Me should bring up an email link.)

Introduction to Miniatures

Welcome!
If you have stumbled across this exhibition by accident and your time is limited, it is suggested you look at either the 2008 Additions and Comment under Gallery Links for regular updates, or the American 1 Gallery for the kind of information included about artists and sitters.

Other sections contain information on the history of portrait miniatures and Internet links to related sites. The site is continually being revised as extra information or miniatures come to hand. Such revisions are a great advantage of publishing on the Internet.

If you wish to ask me about miniatures, you can click on my photo for an email link.

Please, please, please!
However, before you set off to explore the site, a heartfelt plea to anyone who owns a miniature and knows the identity of the subject.

Please, please, record the name of the sitter, either written on the reverse or on an attached tag, especially if you are contemplating a sale of the miniature.

Some sellers deliberately conceal or remove the identity of the sitter, probably because they are ashamed of selling an "ancestor".

The miniature here by Annie Dixon, of a girl with ringlets, falls into this category. When purchased, it was found the sitter's name is written on the reverse, but has been crossed out so it is illegible.

It is far better to be as proud of the sitter's identity, as the original owner of the miniature was, so that an ancestor's identity is not lost and can follows them into the future.

I think that to remove the identity of a sitter is akin to removing the sitter's gravestone from their grave. No one would contemplate that. In this collection, research into named sitters has often revealed how interesting their lives were.

Shown here is one large painting (20" x 16") in the collection, which was an irresistible purchase. It is titled "The Miniature" and is signed by A L Grace, a late Victorian artist. It depicts a collector (not me, I have more hair) admiring a portrait and gives an indication of the relative size of a miniature, although most are smaller than this.

Collecting Miniatures
The fascination in collecting miniatures arises from the skill of the artist, with each portrait being a unique and original work of art, together with the opportunity to research individual sitters and the historical events associated with them. As with collecting of any nature, there is also the thrill of the hunt!

Some notes for potential collectors. An author on the subject, Daphne Foskett, observed in her book "Miniatures - Dictionary and Guide" that there are two methods of forming a collection, with the choice between the two determined by how much the collector can afford to spend.

The first method is for collectors of limited means. In Daphne Foskett's opinion this is the most interesting way and involves the collector buying any miniatures that appeal. In this way a collection may be assembled that may not be of equal merit, but can later be weeded out and the collection improved. In the process the collector gradually gains knowledge, becomes more discriminating and thus better able to select good examples. For example the collector will quickly become aware that miniatures can be divided into two types. Collectors generally prefer those which are true portraits, but some people do collect miniatures which were originally mass produced for decorative purposes.

The second method of collecting is for a collector with ample means who can afford to buy important items recommended by specialist dealers. Such a collection is often smaller, but will include examples by the better known artists. An extreme example is the Starr Collection of miniatures by John Smart, which contains a dated example for each year of his activity from 1760 to 1810.

As the cost of a John Smart miniature these days is in the range of US$20,000 to US$40,000, a collector wishing to emulate that collection will need very ample means!

Most miniature portraits are, as the name suggests, portraits of people. However, it is possible to occasionally find the skill of an artist demonstrated in other ways, such as the feather shown here, which is painted by an unknown artist.

Prices for Miniatures
The current world record price for a miniature portrait is over US$1,300,000 which was paid for a miniature of George Washington by John Ramage. At the time it was probably the most expensive painting per square inch in the world.

However, a collector need not be disheartened by that price. Miniatures do represent an opportunity to assemble a collection of original art at modest cost. This collection has been acquired on a limited budget. Thus famous miniature painters such as Hilliard, Cooper, Smart, and Engleheart are absent.

Nevertheless, by putting in much search and research time, together with some calculated risk taking and occasional lucky finds, it has been possible to assemble a range of good artists. Some of these, such as Francois Soiron, Domenico Bossi, James Peale, and Charles Bourgeois are the equals of top British artists and represented in museum collections around the world.

Potential collectors may also be heartened to know that shown here is the cheapest miniature in this collection which was purchased in 2001 at auction for less than US$5.

Also shown is the signed and dated note found inside it, which gives the name of both the artist and the sitter. (As a word of caution, miniatures should only be opened if they come apart easily. If not, seek the assistance of a jeweller.)

Thus bargains can still be found. Overall the average cost of this collection is under US$500 per miniature. This average cost limit is an ongoing target, so as to have fun collecting, and as a purchasing discipline.

Research
One of the most enjoyable features of collecting is researching sitters. It is often amazing what can be found out about a sitter who may have an unfamiliar name, but may well be related to famous people from history. Rarely, it is even possible to use other sources to identify an unknown sitter. The extra information can add dramatically to the value.

Hopefully this website will encourage new collectors and show that even people of modest means can build an interesting collection and have pleasure in the process.

For more general information about miniatures see Background or to explore the various Galleries, click on these blue hyperlinks.

  • 2008 Additions and Comment
  • 2007 Additions and Comment
  • 2006 Additions and Comment
  • American 1
  • American 2
  • American 3
  • American 20C
  • British 1
  • British 2
  • British 20C
  • European 1
  • European 2
  • Guest Gallery
  • Une Collection Francaise
  •