Tuesday, October 16, 2007

October 2007 - American miniatures

Recent posts have covered a lot of ground, but now there is a chance to comment upon several interesting American miniatures added to the collection during October.

Firstly there is an example of a rare engraving by Saint-Memin (1770-1852). These engravings were produced by Saint-Memin using a mechanical process called physiognotrace.

I had been hoping to find one of these, but until now those that appeared had eluded me due to their cost. This one is particularly interesting as it is illustrated in Anne Hollingsworth Wharton's 1898 book "Heirlooms in Miniature".

The sitter is Christopher Grant Champlin (1768-1840) a representative and senator from Rhode Island, who was identified from the excellent biography and catalogue prepared by Ellen G Miles.

For much more about the physiognotrace process, Champlin, and also about his daughter Margaret Champlin who was a noted beauty, see Saint-Memin - portrait of Christpher Grant Champli... By an uncanny coincidence, Margaret Champlin, was the mother of Elizabeth Champlin Mason, who married Oliver Hazard Perry and may be the lady in the watercolor miniature shown further on in this post.

The additions include an unsigned miniature portrait of a young man or boy, which has been attributed to Anson Dickinson (1779-1852). Dickinson painted right up until the date of his death.

This miniature is very similar in style to his later works, especially that of Senator Truman Smith painted in 1847. This one may possibly even be the miniature of Master David Welch referred to in Dickinson's workbook for August 15, 1849.

For more about this miniature see Dickinson, Anson - portrait of a young man

The third miniature is unsigned, but due to the exceptional painting quality, it has been attributed to JohnAlexander McDougall (1810-1894).

McDougall, together with John Henry Brown and John Ramsier, were perhaps the only American miniature painters who could make their painted miniatures indistinguishable from photographs.

The areas of apparent paint loss on his black neckchief are actually embroidered stars.

For more see McDougall, John Alexander - portrait of man with goatee beard

The fourth miniature is also unsigned, but has been attributed to William John Thomson (1771-1845) who was born in Savannah, GA, but worked for most of his life in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Thomson usually signed the backing paper and often also included the name of the sitter. Unfortunately the backing paper has been removed, perhaps when it was sold out of the family, by a descendant who was embarrassed to be selling a miniature portrait of their ancestor.

For more about the attribution, including a comparison with another signed and dated miniature in the collection, see Thomson, William John - portrait of a lady

Finally, there is this pair of watercolor on paper miniatures, believed to be of a naval officer and his wife, also unsigned and with the sitters currently unidentified.

The previous owner acquired them in Erie, PA and naturally wondered if they represented the naval hero Oliver Hazard Perry and his wife Elizabeth Champlin Mason.

Some research into this possibility has been undertaken and, while it is unlikely, there are some similarities and hence it cannot be completely ruled out. For some comparative images of Perry and his wife, see Unknown - portrait of naval officer and wife

In any event, it is unusual to find a pair of miniatures of this date, around 1805 and miniatures on paper are less common than those on ivory, presumably because ivory is more durable.

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