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Much loved and admired portrait miniatures

Miniatures, originally, were tiny, decorative images that embellished illuminated medieval manuscripts. Portrait miniatures, head-and-shoulder portrayals of individuals about the size of large marshmallows, developed from their techniques and tradition.

From the mid-1400s, illuminators not only illustrated manuscripts and costly hand-printed books. For wealthy patrons, they also created stand-alone miniatures for private worship or as luxurious collectibles.

Gentleman, oil on copper, framed and glazed, inscribed ‘A: 1588’, 5.5 x 3.9 in., British, realized £7,000 in 2015. Image courtesy of Busby and LiveAuctioneers

During the following century, English and French illuminators created portrait miniatures on backs of stiff playing cards, copper wafers or velvety calfskin parchment using watercolors. At the time, aristocrats and royalty, like Henry VIII, commissioned these small, colorful depictions as diplomatic gifts, signs of royal favor, and to facilitate long-distance marriage negotiations.

During the Elizabethan era, miniatures depicting likenesses of lovers were intended for personal, private use. When Spain threatened England, however, wealthier subjects sometimes bore copies of Elizabeth’s image as signs of loyalty. Similarly, some bore images of James I when he inherited the throne.

Portrait miniature of Adam Babcock, signed ‘HP’ l.r. by Henry Pelham (after noted American painter John Singleton Copley), watercolor on ivory, c. 1774, 2 x 1¼ in., 18K gold case, illustrious history and provenance known, documented and exhibited through the U.S. Department of State, realized $55,000 in 2011. Image courtesy of Skinner and LiveAuctioneers

Though traditional techniques continued through the early 1700s, miniaturists usually preferred smooth, translucent ivory wafer backings, because they enhanced skin with realistic radiance. Since watercolors tended to slide off, however, many first degreased or roughened their surfaces.

In time, painting portrait miniatures became an acceptable pastime, even for women. Yet with the rise of the middle class, their demand rose dramatically. Clerics, soldiers, dignitaries, as well as common folk, not only commissioned depictions of themselves. Many also commissioned multiple copies, to be distributed to family members or as tokens of affection.

Violinist, possibly Mikhail Glinka, watercolor on ivory, signed ‘I. Gerin’ along with finely penned inscription in Cyrillic, “To my dearest friend Sofia Nikolayevna Treskina with the fondest of memories, 31st of August 1835,” 3.1 in. high, realized $5,500 in 2012. Image courtesy Jackson’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Women often wore these stunning, tiny portraits mounted in brooches, bracelets, or lockets backed by locks of hair coiled into love knots Young men, rakes and politicians concealed lovers’ portraits under lids of snuff boxes. Soldiers and sailors bore miniatures of wives and sweethearts into battle, leaving self-images for those left behind. In addition, seafaring merchants carried portrait miniatures to the American Colonies.

At first, Colonial painters produced tiny, traditional oval portraits for wealthy clients alone. Toward 1800 however, when enterprising British, French and Italian miniaturists arrived, this fine art thrived. Yet within a few decades, American miniatures, larger, brighter, sharper and featuring full-length figures, tended to resemble full-size oil paintings.

Miniature portrait of Auguste Marie von Engelhardt on ivory by Alexander Molinari, signed lower right, titled and dated verso, 1800, 3½ in. high x 2¾ in. wide, provenance known, realized $8,500 in 2011. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

British portrait miniatures gained popularity during the reign of Queen Victoria, especially following the death of Prince Albert. Since public mourning had become fashionable, women not only wore brooches of their near and dear. Many also wore ones depicting images of their dear departed.

When portrait miniatures fell from fashion, the European middle class continued to seek small, affordable ornamental items. Mass-produced miniatures, reproductions of full-scale oil paintings and depictions of famed musicians, military leaders or maidens in fancy bonnets, were especially popular. These purely decorative works, many created in Germany, were not produced to deceive the public, but to fulfill their wide demand.

Girl wearing black dress with muslin trimmings and matching hat, on ivory, signed and dated, gold frame with bright-cut sides, the reverse with glazed aperture containing hair-work monogram, John Smart (1740-1811), 1.9 in. high, realized $7,773 in 2016. Image courtesy Matthew Barton Ltd. And LiveAuctioneers

Many can be readily identified. The quality of their painting may vary, they may bear French-sounding signatures, and most are produced on low-cost, translucent ivorine wafers made from milk curd or rennet. In addition, they may be framed by lavish brass filigree or ivory piano keys backed by pages from old books, to simulate great age. Yet these attractive, available, affordable decorative miniatures are becoming antiques in their own right.

More serious collectors, however, usually seek unique miniatures featuring actual sitters. Those portraying a famed monarch, actress, or admiral, for instance, are especially collectible. So are those featuring sitters identified through historic research or genealogical studies. Works by celebrated miniaturists, like Samuel Cooper, John Smart, Robert Field and Laura Coombs Hills, are also desirable, especially if they are signed and dated. That said, rare, masterly portrait miniatures, in prime condition, in original, high quality frames, signed and dated by famous artists, and portraying known, interesting, and attractive sitters, are most collectible of all.

Child identified as ‘Aspinwall Maxwell/born in/Saugerties N.Y.,’ watercolor on ivory in locket type velvet covered case. 19th century, unsigned, 1¾ x 1⅜ in., realized $300 in 2007. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Since scores were produced by unknown artists, however, many may be found at appealing prices. Furthermore, those featuring unidentified sitters – even those not particularly attractive, may hold a certain charm. After all, these miniatures not only reveal fads and fashions of their day. They also illuminate real lives.

In addition, these miniscule, incredibly delicate works of art are wonders of survival.

Animal paintings by listed artists featured in online auction Nov. 28

Jasper52 will offer nearly 100 original works of art, many at affordable price points, in an online auction Wednesday, Nov. 28. Paintings range from Victorian landscapes to contemporary still lifes, all by listed artists.

View the auction.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Women who rocked the art world

Women are on the rise. You can see it everywhere—politically, culturally and, to a subtler and perhaps less profound degree, artistically. Make no mistake, women have been creating art for millennia, as long as men, only in far fewer numbers than their male counterparts. That can be attributed in large part to a woman’s traditional role throughout history: that of mother, caregiver and family provider. Those important, although burdensome and time-consuming, duties left little time for pursuits like painting and sculpture—at least for most women.

Susan Hertel (American, 1930-1993), ‘Interior with woman and dogs,’ oil, graphite and charcoal on canvas, 43¾ inches by 52¼ inches, $21,250—a new auction record for the artist (estimate $6,000-$9,000). Sold Oct. 23, 2018. John Moran Auctioneers image.

But that was then and this is now, in the era of the Me Too Movement and women in politics. The point was driven home at John Moran Auctioneers’ inaugural Women in Art Auction, held Oct. 23 at their gallery in Monrovia, California. It was so successful that a second one is planned, probably in fall 2019. Comprising 93 women artists and 124 lots, the auction shed light on mostly California and American women artists from the 19th century to the present day. Prices were strong across the board, and new auction records were set for Susan Hertel, Ethel V. Ashton and Dora Gamble.

“There’s an absolute correlation between the events of today and the rise of women in art,” said Morgana Blackwelder, John Moran’s vice president and director of Fine Art. “Early this year, given our political and social climates, we felt it was a moment in time to conduct a sale that was topical and relevant, and the Women in Art Auction proved to be a perfect choice. We wanted to remove the bias that favors men and give women more of a voice so as to call attention to their mostly prewar artistic contributions. We didn’t know what to expect, but it was a huge success.”

Kathryn W. Leighton (American, 1875-1952), ‘The Young Chief,’ oil on canvas, 44¼ inches by 36 inches, $22,500 (estimate $18,000-$22,000). Sold Oct. 23, 2018. John Moran Auctioneers image

Blackwelder said the auction enjoyed an 80 percent sell-through, with around 80 people in the gallery and hundreds more participating online. “We learned that the people who attended the sale were buying pieces they felt a connection with, and for the most part, that connection was with the female artist. Statistically, women have tremendous buying power and are able to make personal financial decisions more now than ever before.” She said it was no surprise most of the artists were California based. “The state has always been a magnet for culture and the fine arts.”

Mary Dowd of Myers Fine Art in Florida said she’s been conducting auctions since 1988 at their gallery in St. Petersburg, and has noticed more and more women being sprinkled into the mix. “I think women artists got a huge boost around 20 years ago with the opening of the Museum of Women Artists in Washington, D.C.,” Dowd said. That shined a spotlight not only on the more-established women artists, but the up-and-comers, as well. As for identifying trends and emerging talent, I find browsing Art Basel and the other fine art shows to be a great way to stay current.”

Julia Thecla (American, 1896-1973), ‘Talisman’ (1945), casein, gouache opaque watercolor on artist board, 9 inches by 9 inches (sight), $28,320 (estimate $10,000-$20,000). Sold March 13, 2016. Myers Fine Art image

Myers Fine Art specializes in artworks from the Magical Realism Movement out of Chicago in the 1930s-1950s, one that spawned talents such as Julia Thecla and Gertrude Abercrombie. Both were featured in a Myers auction two years ago that did particularly well. “Magical Realism was a regional phenomenon, and the paintings remain very popular in Chicago,” Dowd pointed out.

A painting by Thecla, in fact, was in the John Moran auction just held. It was a Surrealist composition depicting an elephantesque tightrope walker and realized $7,500.

Gertrude Abercrombie (American, 1909-1977), ‘Owl with Carnation,’ oil on Masonite, 5 inches by 7 inches (sight), $7,080 (estimate $3,000-$5,000). Sold Feb. 9, 2014. Myers Fine Art image

Some women artists have benefited from money and connections (often through marriage), which no doubt helped them attain the attention and respect they deserved. The celebrated American abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) was born into privilege but added to her cachet when she married the artist Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991). They both had wealthy parents (her father was a New York State Supreme Court judge) and were known as “the golden couple,” famous for their lavish entertaining. Career building is easier with no money worries.

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986), the grand dame of all female American artists, was the second of seven children born to Wisconsin dairy farmers, and struggled in her early years as an artist. But when she was introduced to Alfred Stieglitz, the successful New York City art dealer and photographer, in 1917, a professional working relationship eventually led to marriage and O’Keeffe’s emergence as the “Mother of American modernism.” She is acclaimed worldwide for her paintings of enlarged flowers, New York City skyscrapers and New Mexico landscapes.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926), whose mother-child renderings are hugely popular among collectors, never had to worry about money. Her father was a successful stockbroker and land speculator. Her mother, the former Katherine Kelso Johnston, came from a banking family. Katherine was educated and well read, and had a profound influence on her daughter. Mary grew up in an environment that viewed travel as integral to education. She was first exposed to the great French artists of the day at the Paris World’s Fair of 1855. Some would later become her colleagues.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926), ‘Simone Talking to Her Mother,’ pastel on paper, 25½ by 30½ inches, $990,000 (estimate $400,000-$700,000). Sold Sept. 15, 2015. John W. Coker Auctions image.

While Elaine de Kooning (American, 1918-1989) never achieved the level of acclaim of her famous husband, Willem, she still enjoyed an enviable career as an Abstract Expressionist and Figurative Expressionist painter, plus she wrote extensively on art of the period and was an editorial associate for Art News magazine. Her talent emerged when she was quite young, but she was not a privileged child. Her father worked at a bread factory in Brooklyn, and her mother had psychiatric issues. Elaine made money as an art school model to help pay for her own art education.

Returning to privilege, Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) was a French impressionist who came from an eminent family, as the daughter of a government official and granddaughter of a famous Rococo artist, Jean-Honore Fragonard. Morisot met her longtime friend and colleague, Edouard Manet, in 1868, and married Manet’s brother Eugene Manet in 1874. The marriage produced a daughter, Julie who posed frequently for her mother and other Impressionist painters, including Renoir and her uncle Edouard, who exerted great influence on Berthe’s emergence as an artist.

It could be argued that Lee Krasner (American, 1908-1984) was a co-equal with her celebrated but self-destructive husband, Jackson Pollock. Lee knew from an early age she wanted to pursue a career in art and attended the Women’s Art School of Cooper Union, on an art scholarship. She struggled through the Great Depression, as a waitress and a teacher, and spent a good portion of the 1940s nurturing Pollock’s home life and career, at the expense of her own art. Still, Krasner is one of the few female artists ever to have a retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926), ‘Portrait of Lady in Hat with Dog,’ drypoint etching on paper, 5¾ inches wide by 7¼ inches tall. Collection of Catherine Saunders-Watson

And let’s give a nod to the better-known female American self-taught folk artists, such as Ann Mary Robertson Moses (also known as Grandma Moses, 1860-1961), Clementine Hunter (another centenarian who’s often called the Black Grandma Moses, 1887-1988), and Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980). All came from humble beginnings and overcame hardship to earn a place at the top of their craft—regardless of gender. Rich or poor, living or passed, women in art are a force to be reckoned with, and one that will only grow stronger as the playing field is leveled between women and men.

Jasper52 presents Jackson Pollock Christmas card May 29

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner’s 1944 Christmas card is a unique highlight of a Jasper52 fine paintings and prints auction to be conducted Tuesday, May 29. The Christmas card – signed by the famed American artists and printed in black in on light blue paper – is expected to sell for $10,000.

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner’s 1944 Christmas card, printed in black ink on light blue paper, matted and framed. Estimate: $10,000-$12,000. Jasper 52 image

View the auction.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

5 Original Works by Wonderful Artists

Ready-to-hang original works by listed artists of the 19th and 20th centuries are featured in this curated collection of paintings and drawings. Nearly 50 oil paintings, watercolors, and pastels will be available to the highest bidders. Below we highlight 5 of the most outstanding pieces in this auction.

Prominent New York artist Gustav Burkhard gets the auction off to a bold and colorful start with a large pastel on paper nude study from the estate of a private collector in Denver. This Abstract Expressionist’s works are in the permanent collections of major museums in the U.S. and abroad.

Hans Gustav Burkhard (Swiss-American, 1904-1994), ‘Nude Study,’ 1975, pastel on paper, image size 24 in. x 18 in. Estimate: $1,000-$1,500. Jasper52 image

 

Carrying the highest estimate in the sale at $2,500-$3,500 is an oil-on-canvas painting depicting a theatrical rehearsal of Othello by Abraham Solomon.

Abraham Solomon, work depicts a theatrical rehearsal of ‘Othello,’ oil on canvas, inscribed ‘A. Solomon Esquire’ on stretcher, 12 in x 14 in. in the frame. Estimate: $2,500-$3,500. Jasper52 image

 

A beautiful 19th-century Mexican school portrait of a young girl is impressive in its 45×35-inch frame.

‘Portrait of a Young Girl,’ Mexican School, oil on canvas, 19th century, 35 1/4 in. x 25 1/4 in. canvas, 45 in. x. 35 in. framed. Estimate: $1,200-$1,800. Jasper52 image

 

John Fleming Gould (American, 1906-1996) contributes a dramatic Illustration for story in Delineator Magazine, 1932, which pictures a young man and woman in a classroom.

John Fleming Gould (American 1906-1996), ‘Illustration for story in Delineator Magazine, 1932,’ mixed media on paper, signed and dated, 15 1/4 in. x 15 3/4 in. image, 23 in. x 23 1/4 in. framed. Estimate: $600-$900. Jasper52 image

 

Los Angeles artist Laddie John Dill (b. 1943) is represented by an untitled oil paint, cement, wash and monotype and multiple on hand-crafted paper. His work is owned by many private collectors and is included in the permanent collections of more than 25 museums. Using natural pigments, he incorporates in his work a wide range of colors from brick reds derived from iron oxide, coal blacks from black sulphur, yellows and naturally minded cobalt blues. Combinations of these natural pigments create a variety of brilliant but still “organic” colors.

Laddie John Dill, Untitled, oil paint cement, wash and monotype multiple on hand crafted paper, signed and dated lower right as well as on verso, 23 in. x 30 in. framed. Provenance: Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Estimate: $1,000-$1,500. Jasper52 image

 

Take a look at the full catalog of 19th & 20th Century Paintings & Drawings by wonderful artists.