Wednesday

January 2019 - Several additions to the collection.

Several miniature portraits have been added to the collection over recent months.

St Memin Chief of the Little Osages - small ds 1518
Chief of the Little Osages by St Memin

This miniature portrait is a little larger than most miniatures, but is currently believed to be genuine.

It was acquired on Ebay from a reputable London UK art dealer who described it, "This picture was purchased from a folder of prints and drawing at my local Sunday antique market recently, this is the only provenance I have for the piece  therefore I am offering the drawing as after St Memin." 

The portrait was offered at an opening bid of $225 and acquired at a price a little above that.

There are already in this collection a couple of St Memin engravings, and my library includes a copy of the comprehensive St Memin catalogue (460 pages) prepared by Ellen G. Miles. Hence, there was more confidence in being prepared to take a calculated risk.

By comparison with other Indian portraits by St Memin, before bidding it was possible to come to a preliminary opinion the portrait was possibly genuine. This opinion was reinforced when the miniature arrived. The quality being too good for a fake, especially when offered for sale at $225.
After the auction closed, I did ask the dealer if he had communicated with anyone in USA about it, but he replied he had not.

NYHS St Memin Chief of the Little Osages large
In referring to the catalogue, the portrait appears as a final, but smaller version of large one owned by NYHS, Cat. 161 (Fig. 7-22), but in red and black chalk, and on watermarked paper. These portraits were sketched by St Memin of the Osages who were with the first delegation to Washington in 1804.

St-Memin used a device that projected the subject's images onto paper and then were traced, so their outlines were perfectly represented. The smaller portraits were probably made by reversing the process, to sketch the smaller portrait by copying the larger portraits.

The size of ds 1518 is 7.5 x 5.5 inches, which is similar to these other small portraits in the catalogue, Cat. 162 (7.25 x 6.5in), Cat. 634 (7.25 x 6 5/16in), Cat. 636 (7.25 x 6.75in), Cat. 637 (5 7/8 x 4.25in), Cat. 746 (7.25 x 6.5in), and Cat. 976 (7.25 x 6.25in). Thus, they are all likely all cut down from larger sheets.

When held to the light, there is a sideways part watermark on ds 1518, very similar, but not identical, to fig. 4.8. On the edge are several stitch holes similar to those on Cat. 633.  See the images further below


The six smaller portraits above are watercolours, rather than chalk, and in looking through the catalogue I see Indian portraits in black and white chalk, but not obviously in red and black chalk. I am inclined to the opinion that the NYHS version was a preliminary portrait, with the medium one below as a version in red and black, reduced in size, and ds 1518 as the final version in red and black chalk.

The signature appears similar to genuine items, but I accept a signature is often the last item to consider in attributing an artwork.The signature in at the extreme bottom right, whereas the Christies version is at middle left. The re-positioning being selected to give a better balance. It also seems more likely any fake would seek to show the signature in the same position as on the Christies version.

Christies 30/1/1997 medium
I note another version of the portrait at http://www.artnet.com/artists/charles-balthazar-julien-fevret-de-saint-m%C3%A9min/the-chief-of-the-little-osages-2FZjkVkDZPk1QXyXy7HU0g2 

This has marginally less detail than ds 1518, and a similar signature, but placed at centre left, rather than bottom right. I do not know where that version currently resides, but that link appears to refer to the portrait offered by Christies, where the medium is also red and black chalk. .

Interestingly it is reportedly 12.4in by 7.7in, i.e. a sheet of paper which, if cut in half, would give two pieces, each close to the size of the version here, and to the other six noted above. 


It was offered by Christies as lot 215 on 30 January 1997 with an estimate of $8,000-12,000, but appears to have been unsold. 



It was described as:

Reverse of ds 1518
Allowing for the extra width and depth on the medium image, I am of the opinion the actual heads of the medium and small miniatures are the same size. The small portrait is a little more complete, with more detail on the earring and the neckwear.

Accordingly, I am currently of the opinion that ds 1518 is a final version of the larger versions.


With an apology to Ellen Miles for raising it, I do hope she will not regard me as impertinent, in suggesting that I tend to doubt, on pages 150-51, that Cat. 161. and Cat 162 in her catalogue are the same sitter. Presumably NYHS has, for many years, claimed they are the same sitter? I sense 162 is related, via a similar profile, perhaps father or uncle, but he appears to be older than 161.

Apart from different clothing, the top of his hair leans a different way, his pig-tail is shorter, and his earring different. Also, a second covered pigtail is more clearly seen in the attached version of 161, whereas in 162 the second pigtail is uncovered.


St Memin ds 1518 watermark
Thus at present, although not yet 100% certain, I currently lean towards the ds 1518 miniature portrait as being genuine, based on the quality, the watermark, the technique, the paper, the size, the signature, and the appearance as a final version of both Cat 161 and the medium version. 
A possible explanation for the portrait being found in London, England, is that it was more easily transported than the large, preliminary drawings and may have been acquired by a British collector in New York and taken to England.. 
However, I would be grateful for any other thoughts on this St Memin portrait. ds 1518.


St Memin ds 1518 signature




[More to come]

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