Introduction to Miniatures

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.

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

    Anonymous said...

    Thank you so much for this wonderful website. My great grandfather was an American painter of miniatures (watercolor on ivory). He supported his family this way and even won a prize in Germany in the late 1800's for his miniature work. But I don't know much more about him. I am lucky enough to have a number of his miniatures. Do you have any suggestions for how I can go about finding more about him (family leads have not gone very far)? Thank you.

    Don, the collector said...

    Hi Kathy, I am glad you found the website interesting. If you send the name of your g-grandfather to me at collector@actrix.co.nz I can tell you if my reference books mention him and what they say about him. One book by Blattel lists 37,000 miniature painters! If you would like to scan and send me any images, that would be great. Regards, Don

    Anonymous said...

    I've just spent several very enjoyable hours looking through your site. It's unusual to come across something so helpful and well done, and I hope you won't mind a few questions in view of your expertise on this subject. I'm researching a painting on canvas that portrays a miniature painter at work. I'm therefore interested in other depictions of miniaturists in the process of executing a miniature, particularly those from America, c. 1840. Also interesting for me would be photographs of miniaturists' tools from the same period: painting box, brushes, reducing glass, etc. I noticed that you had information about painting boxes for painted photographs, but I didn't see the traditional boxes used by miniaturists. Thank you again for your much appreciated efforts.

    Famous Artists said...

    I really like the image... Very well composed. And I like the colors and multilevel shapes.

    vivian said...

    Well, nice!

    cygnusx1 said...

    superb.. very amazing art... :)

    Buffy said...

    Very interesting. Being a painter, I'd like to try some miniature paintings on some unusual surfaces such as shells, bones, old jewelry and such. Did you hear of the guy who painted on grains of rice? Now that's miniature.

    Anonymous said...

    this is a good place to blog i suppose........good....

    François Comeau Lapointe said...

    These are awesome piece of art! I'm a huge art fan myself, never guessed mini-portrait would sell for so much. Thanks for the great post

    François Comeau-Lapointe

    Anonymous said...

    Good work, i just need to translate it now.

    john said...

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