Sunday, June 10, 2007

June 2007 - American miniatures

This second group of acquisitions for the month as shown below, are all unsigned. Unsigned miniature portraits are both a great frustration, but also potentially a great opportunity for a collector, if it becomes possible to make a positive attribution. Naturally, the value of an unsigned miniature may be substantially enhanced if it can be attributed to a well known and highly regarded artist.

Nevertheless opportunities do present themselves and, after taking a deep breath and with some luck, it is sometimes possible to make important attributions, as has been the case this month. However, a caveat has to be made that the attributions are made by this collector as an amateur collector and others may disagree with them.

Fortunate acquisitions were the first two unsigned miniatures shown here. They were unattributed on purchase, being described only as "Two watercolor on ivory miniature portraits, early/mid 19th c., of a woman and gentleman". They were in a very and cheap centrally hinged frame from around 1990 as shown above.

However the first one has been fairly confidently attributed to Nathaniel Rogers (1767-1844) of New York. For the reasoning see Rogers, Nathaniel - portrait of a young man

The second of the pair, of a young lady in a black dress painted around 1850, has been a little less confidently attributed to either Samuel P Howes (1806-1881) or perhaps instead Mrs Moses B Russell (1809-1854), also known as Clarissa Peters Russell. Her husband was the miniaturist Moses B Russell and it is even possible this miniature is actually a later work by him, painted after his wife's death when he had been influenced by her style.

For the reasoning behind the attribution see Howes, Samuel P - portrait of a young lady

Another miniature, this one of an older lady was also unattributed on acquisition, although the vendor did advise that the sitter was thought to come from either North Carolina or South Carolina.

However, after comparison with illustrated examples of his work, it has been attributed fairly confidently to the Charleston artist Charles Fraser (1782-1860). For the reasoning, see Fraser, Charles - portrait of a lady

Perhaps the most appealing of these miniatures, the fourth one, is also unsigned. The style seems quite distinctive, but it has been the hardest to arrive at an attribution for. To date a firm attribution has not been possible.

This is where the frustration sets in, as the style looks so distinctive and the skill of the artist is so apparent, one would think it would be easy to attribute. Currently, tentative opinion ranges from Charles Fraser to Thomas Badger. For further discussion see Unknown - portrait of girl in a pink dress

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to locate experts in the field who are able to help with attributions. Some experts are employed by institutions whose policies, not surprisingly, preclude their employees from commenting on attributions. There has also become a realisation that compared to British and European miniatures, there are very few real experts in the field of American miniatures.

Thus this collector is very much self taught and is anxious to improve his knowledge to better attribute artists to portraits. A major help in this is the reference books held as part of the collection. However, even these collectively illustrate very few portraits by each artist and it is quite surprising how many individual miniature portraits are illustrated in multiple reference books, thus to some extent negating their usefulness.

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