As the year draws to the close, so do opportunities to purchase miniature portraits.
However, December has witnessed the acquisition of two American miniatures, one of them being an important miniature by John Ramage (1748-1802). It was acquired recently at a combined live and Internet auction conducted by a large auction house. It is engraved on the reverse; "Garrit Van Horne - Married to - Ann Margaret Clarkson - 16 Novr 1784".
The auction house had described it as; "A hand-painted portrait miniature brooch/pendant, the oval portrait depicting a fashionable gentleman within borders of beads and half pearls, inscribed to reverse and dated 1784. Length 4.5cm." Thus it was unattributed by them.
However, it looked like a Ramage and before the auction I also found an apparently identical miniature in the Manney collection, which is discussed further below.
Needless to say to anyone who has ever bid at an auction, the time; before the auction worrying who else might see it, during the auction worrying how high they might bid, and then during transit worrying about a safe arrival, which itself was much delayed by the Christmas rush, was very stressful.
Subsequent to the auction, I am very grateful for the expert opinion which has endorsed my tentative view that this miniature was painted by John Ramage.
The similar image shown being fig 187 in the Manney Collection, which now forms part of the collection of American portrait miniatures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Apparently Ramage did sometimes make multiple versions of his miniatures. For more on this see View
There is often confusion over attributions of miniatures to John Ramage and William Verstille and so the auction records can be confusing for these two artists.
A genuine Ramage miniature sold at auction, shown here in front and rear views, was this c1790 miniature of Nicholas Gilman (1755-1814) which was sold by Sotheby's as lot 865 on January 18, 2003 for a hammer price of $42,000 which was double the pre sale estimate.
Although, I have not yet checked, it seems likely that this Nicholas Gilman is related to the Nathaniel Gilman, depicted in a later miniature portrait in this collection, see View
In contrast, the oval miniature of a lady shown here was offered at auction by Freemans on Nov 17, 2007 as lot 2211 - a miniature portrait of Mary Wool, attributed to John Ramage and with an estimate of $10,000/15,000.
However, buyers doubted the attribution and at the auction it sold for a hammer price of $4500. The miniature is probably by William Verstille and the auction price is commensurate with Verstille as the artist.
Although their work is similar and they are often in similar scalloped frames, Ramage was a much better artist than Verstille.
John Ramage was born in Ireland, but in about 1772 settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia. By 1775 he had moved to Boston. In 1776 he went to New York and quickly became that city's leading miniature painter, a position he held for around ten years. In 1794 he moved to Montreal and died there in 1802.
Although I have not seen it written elsewhere, I feel sure that other commentators would have observed that John Ramage was probably the American equivalent in terms of local importance, to the British artist, John Smart.
Ramage is the artist who painted the most valuable miniature portrait ever sold. This was a miniature of George Washington which sold for $1,200,000. This also made it the most valuable painting in the world of any kind, on a per square inch basis!
The comparison is a little nebulous, but www.askart.com has calculated the Ramage at $382,000 per square inch, compared to the next most expensive American artist, Andy Warhol at $88,000 per square inch.
Since writing the above a knowledgeable visitor has provided some interesting extra comment about Ramage and his miniatures. This can be seen along with more detail on this miniature at View
Compared to the Ramage mentioned above, there is much less certainty about the attribution of the second addition to the artist John Wesley Jarvis (1780-1840).
This is the unframed oval portrait on ivory shown here. The basis for the attribution is the similarity of style to the framed miniature on paper shown here, which is signed and dated 1807 by John Wesley Jarvis. It was recently sold by Skinners for $2000.
A close up view of the unframed miniature, see View - reveals that the hair has been built up by a multitude of fine cross-hatched lines, such as would be adopted by an artist trained as an engraver, such as Jarvis was.
Alternatively, the miniature may be by one of Jarvis's contemporaries.
The ivory portrait appears much brighter, which is partly because the framed miniature on paper was described as "toned and foxed".
There have been several interesting miniatures sold recently.
A major surprise was an unframed miniature by the Australian convict and artist Thomas Watling (1762->1806). It was signed and dated 1792, the year Watling finally reached the colony in Australia, after being sentenced to 14 years for forging banknotes in Dumfries.
The miniature depicts John White, the chief surgeon for the First Fleet, the 11 ships that sailed to Botany Bay in 1786 to establish a convict settlement in Australia.
After his arrival, Watling made many drawings which form the basis of the important studies of wildlife, landscapes, and the indigenous people of Australia known as the Watling Collection, now housed in the zoological library of the Natural History Museum in London. He was pardoned in April 1797, see Watling, Thomas (1762 - ) Biographical Entry - Australian ...
The miniature was offered for sale by Gorringes in England on 6 December 2007, seeking an opening bid of GBP120 and with an estimate of GBP200/400. I was tempted to leave an absentee bid of GBP550, well over the estimate to have a good chance of winning, but in the event did not bid.
To the astonishment of everyone, me included, but excepting the two bidders concerned, there were 405 bids according to the eBay auction record, which took the hammer price to GBP90,000, say $210,000 including buyer's commission.
To the best of my knowledge, this is a new record price for any miniature sold at a combined live/eBay auction.
Comparison can be made with the Watling miniature in this collection.
This second miniature by Thomas Watling is shown here in front and rear views.
Also shown much enlarged is the signature "T W", which is faint as it was difficult to scan through the glass. The "T" and "W" are formed in exactly the same manner as the example from the miniature of John White, and as if by an engraver, which was Watling's profession. However, it is conceded the initials may be meant to be "J W" or "I W".
In Foskett, there are no other obvious contenders with the initials "T W" and working around 1795-1805, which appears to be the date of this case. Foskett observes that Watling was working in Calcutta in 1803, and this was presumably after being released in Australia.
More recent research notes that he returned to Britain in 1804 and presumably continued painting there. Given the ornate frame, it seems possible this second miniature dates from after his return to Britain.
When acquired, this second miniature was attributed to Thomas Watling and the sitter was said to be related to the Macquarie family who were early settlers in Australia. The rear does include initials which appear to read "M F". However, to date, no research has been undertaken to try and find an early Australian settler with the intitials "M F", but it seems a little unlikely that the sitter has an Australian connection.
However, if any researcher familiar with early Australian history, can suggest a suitable name, I would be very grateful. Of course, one obvious Australian explorer with the initials "M F", is the navigator and cartographer Matthew Flinders (1774-1814), but this sitter looks to be too old to be Flinders.