NEW YORK – An auction devoted to 18th and 19th century portrait miniatures, small hand-painted masterpieces, will be conducted by Jasper52 on Wednesday, May 22. The online auction represents a who’s who of the rich subjects and famous miniature portraitists of their eras. Bid absentee or live online exclusively through LiveAuctioneers.
Beautiful women, a few of whom are identified, head the list 143 lots offered in the auction. A striking blue-eyed woman with a coquettish mien might well be Mary, Viscountess Dillon, a prominent figure in 18th century Ireland. This fine portrait miniature (above) is by Horace Hone (1754-1825), was the second son of the Irish portrait artist Nathaniel Hone. Horace was born in London and learned his craft from his father. He entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1770 and exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1772 and 1822. From 1782 Hone worked in Dublin where he established a successful practice. In 1795 Hone became a miniature painter to the Prince of Wales (later George IV) and maintained an illustrious list of patrons throughout his life. The sitter in the portrait miniature bears a great resemblance to another portrait Hone did of the Viscountess Dillon. Hone’s works are in the Victoria & Albert Museum as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A pretty young lady wearing a black jacket over a white dress with a neck ruffle (below) was painted by Robert Field (British, 1769-1819). Although the details of Field’s early career in England are obscure, it is known that he received his early training around 1790 at the Royal Academy schools. In 1794 he moved to the United States as part of the influx of British artists and craftsmen enticed by the prosperity of the new republic. After settling briefly in Baltimore he took up residence in Philadelphia, the U.S. capital at that time. There he immediately joined a group of artists led by Charles Willson Peale, the noted painter, in establishing the Columbianum, or American Academy of the Fine Arts, which was eventually superseded by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1805. Field spent 14 years in the United States, working as a miniature painter in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston. In 1808, he left the United States for Halifax, Nova Scotia, a city that was enjoying unprecedented prosperity because of its position as a base for British naval operations. Several years after that he moved to Jamaica where he died in 1819.
Field is considered of the four most highly sought-after American miniaturists of his time. His most famous works are two groups of miniatures of George Washington, commissioned by Martha Washington in 1800. These were intended as mementos for friends and family to commemorate Washington on the one-year anniversary of his death. One group was of Washington in civilian dress, the other of him in full uniform, examples of which have sold in the $300,000 to $336,000 range. In addition to these, he produced miniatures of Thomas Jefferson and a wide range of people prominent in the social, economic and political life of American society. His works rarely become available. Examples are in several major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Yale University Art Gallery.
Gervase Spencer (British, circa 1715-1763) started out as a gentleman’s servant but took up painting and became a popular miniaturist of his time. His beautiful portrait of a striking young woman is painted in enamels on copper is signed and dated “GS 1759” on the lower right. The subject of the painting, with brown hair and blue eyes, is clearly wealthy, attired in a blue gown with lace trim, and accessorized with pearl earrings, a pearl encrusted hair barrette, a pearl choker, and a long pearl necklace centered by a pearl, onyx and gold brooch. It is not known who, if anyone, taught Spencer. He exhibited at the Society of Artists in the 1761 to 1762 period and also had commissions from the royal family. Spencer died in London. His works are in most major museums and represented in most top collections.
The artist who painted the portrait miniature of the Royal Navy captain is unidentified. Engraving on the reverse of the case provides the following information: “Captain William Oakley died 30 January 1811, aged 71.” The Pinchbeck case, although somewhat later than when the portrait was done, itself deserves special mention, with beautiful cobalt enameling and pearls, all set in a gold surround. A pin and loop was added, probably at or close to the time this was painted, to allow this to be worn as a brooch.
An early example of Samuel Cotes’ work is displayed in a portrait miniature of a nobleman playing the mandolin. Cotes (1734-1818) was born in London to the former mayor of Galway. He was brought up by his father to be in the medical profession, but was influenced by the success of his brother, Francis Cotes, as one of the leading portrait painters to take up art under his tutelage, specializing in miniature portraits. Cotes exhibited his miniatures at the Society of Artists from 1760 and at the Royal Academy from 1769 to 1789. Examples of his work are in the V & A Museum.
An extremely fine watercolor and gouache portrait miniature of a well-dressed gentleman by Henry Benbridge is painted in the artist’s crisp, realistic style. The sitter is attired in a blue coat and a white ruffled shirt and collar, the fabrics of which are carefully and richly depicted, a characteristic of Benbridge’s work.
Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) was born in Philadelphia and studied there with John Wollaston. At the age of 21 he traveled to Italy, remaining there and studying his craft for four years. He then went to London for a year and became associated with painter Benjamin West, a relative by marriage, who was helpful to him as was American statesman, Benjamin Franklin, to whom he had a letter of introduction. While in London he exhibited two portraits, one of Franklin, at the Royal Academy of Arts. Returning to Philadelphia in 1770 he married miniaturist Letitia Sage, who had studied with Charles Willson Peale. They then settled in Charleston, where he succeeded Jeremiah Theus as the most prominent portraitist of distinguished local residents, also painting numerous miniatures.
When the British captured Charleston in 1780, Benbridge refused allegiance to them and was exiled to Saint Augustine, Florida, for two years. He was released in 1783, and returned to Charleston, where he again had many portrait commissions, this time among people who shared his political loyalties. Benbridge’s works are highly sought after and collected, scarce though they may be. Examples are in the Metropolitan Museum and other major American art museums.
The Jasper52 auction of antique portrait miniatures will be held Wednesday, May 22, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern time.