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My Favorite Portrait Miniatures

I can’t believe that we’re already at the last week of the exhibition Intimate Images of Love and Loss: Portrait Miniatures.  Once the show closes this Sunday, October 31, these incredible, tiny masterpieces go back into Museum storage.

In a world before photography, portrait miniatures were the wallet photographs or their day. Made to be held, worn, and hung on the wall of the home as a type of “family album,” the small-scale portraits afford us an extremely personal glimpse into the past.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The Woman in a Hat miniature to the left is housed in an 18-carat gold mount, handmade by a master jeweler.  Made to be worn as a bracelet, the mount is slightly curved to fit a woman’s wrist, and two lines of holes on the top and bottom reveal where peals were once affixed.  The artist, George Engleheart (English, 1750–1829), was miniature painter to King George III of England.  An excellent example of Engleheart’s style, this miniature uses a restricted palette of white, gray, and blue, with touches of pink on the lips and cheeks.

Miniatures by Jean Etienne Liotard (Swiss, active France, 1702–1789), like the one above, are extremely rare.  Before this miniature was discovered, only sixty-two miniatures on ivory and in enamel are known to be by Liotard.   Now there are sixty-three!  Liotard was one of the most fascinating and idiosyncratic artists of the eighteenth century.  Nicknamed “The Turk” after adopting eastern dress following a trip to Turkey, Liotard spent his career traveling around Europe painting royalty. His admirers called him the “painter of truth” because he avoided flattery and embellishment in his portraits.

The Milwaukee Art Museum is extremely lucky to have significant examples of Central and Eastern European miniatures.  Most US museum collections focus on English, American, and French miniatures. You might remember Austrian artist Moritz Michael Daffinger’s (Austrian, 1790–1849) watercolors of flowers from the 2006 exhibition Biedermeier: The Invention of Simplicity (Click here for a New York Times article on the Museum’s exhibition).  In fact, Daffinger was best known as a portrait miniaturist. Emanuel Thomas Peter (Austrian, 1799–1873), who painted this delightful little girl with pink hair ribbons, was Daffinger’s student.

Catherine Sawinski is the Assistant Curator of Earlier European Art. When not handling the day-to-day running of the European art department and the Museum’s Fine Arts Society, she researches the collection of Ancient and European artwork before 1900.

2 replies on “My Favorite Portrait Miniatures”

[…] Other artists featured in the display on the Mezzanine are Joseph Mallard William Turner (English, 1775-1851), Edwin Landseer, and Canaletto (Italian, 1697-1768).  And, I’m very excited that a selection of British portrait miniatures featured in the 2010 exhibition Intimate Images of Love and Loss have been brought out, too, including the fantastic Woman in a Hat by George Engleheart (English, 1750–1829), which I featured in my first blog post. […]

[…] Many visitors to the Milwaukee Art Museum would probably say that Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect, our painting by French Impressionst Claude Monet, is their favorite. This important cornerstone of our Impressionist collection was left to the Museum by Mrs. Albert T. Friedmann upon her death in 1950. Although the Monet is the piece with her name on it that will most know, Mrs. Friedmann left more than 40 objects to us, including prints and portrait miniatures. […]

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