Friday, December 31, 2010

Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill


Horace Walpole (1717-1797) as the 4th son of the 18th Century British
Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole, might have lived an inconspicuous
life if it weren't for his interest in collecting and writing, and his
astonishing transformation of a little villa in Twickenham!
Twickenham, about ten miles from Central London, was a two hour coach
ride from the capital in Walpole's day. Nowadays, it is a journey by
public transport of about an hour, by train, tube and/or bus and the
possession of an Oyster card.

2008 Strawberry Hill before restoration

2010 Strawberry Hill after £9million restoration

 Purchased in 1748, Horace Walpole spent
almost fifty years and £20,720 on its recreation as a 'little Gothic
Castle' into which he packed paintings, objects, books, curiosities
and sightseers and was credited with starting a Gothic Revival.  In
those days, the house was surrounded by fields and Walpole purchased
further land to augment the original five acre grounds to 46 acres.
From the top floor, there were views over the River Thames.  Nowadays
the views are interrupted by suburban housing. The walls of the
grounds abut the pavement and road in surprisingly close proximity,
and it is now hard to believe that the once magnificent villa was a
teachers training college in the 1920's before falling into almost
complete disarray.  A common problem with men who remain bachelors and
who have no offspring to carry on the 'tradition', on Walpole's death,
Strawberry Hill was left to a friend's daughter, Mrs. Anne Damer, and
was eventually inherited by the Waldegrave Family.  In 1842, the 7th
Earl Waldegrave auctioned off the contents of the house and Walpole's
legacy was scattered far and wide.  Walpole apparently relished his
position as an important collector and connoisseur and encouraged
visitors, although he made it clear that children were not welcome!!
Credited with being the first English collector to recognise the importance of the portrait miniature, he considered his collection of miniatures to be 'the largest and
finest in any country'!  We might be forgiven for thinking that he was
perhaps a little naive and presumptuous, when we consider the large
and fine miniature collections in many of the stately homes as
compared to Walpole's collection, which apparently numbered around
130!!  Walpole had a special miniature cabinet, measuring about 152 x
91 x 21 cm ( 60" x 37" x 8") made of rose wood and with ivory
ornamentation.  This cabinet is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum,

Portrait miniature by William Grimaldi of Lady Hester Stanhope (After Joshua Renolds) c.1795

This miniature purchased with a label stating it was from the 'Strawberry Hill Collection'
 was once in our collection

 The Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University has
painstakingly attempted to track down all known former possessions in
Strawberry Hill, and their work to date can be seen online at  The Victoria and Albert Museum held
a Strawberry Hill Exhibition earlier in 2010, and if you still have
the catalogue from that exhibition, you may like to keep it safely in
order to take advantage of the 'Two for One' offer for entry to
Strawberry Hill printed on the penultimate page.  This reduction may
help to assuage any feelings of disappointment that the refurbishment
of the house is still not completed (at the time of writing) and there
is no furniture or furnishings or gardens, and one is left to wander
around wearing plastic overshoes and a dodgy audio headset in timed
visits 20 minutes apart.  If you do not expect a mansion (the house is
quite small) but love gilding, stained glass, fantastical ceilings and a crazy
layout, the fabulous enthusiasm of the staff and the delightful
homemade fare available from the cafe will delight you.

 Hopefully, at some time in the future, Horace Walpole's Collections will be reunited
with his beloved Strawberry Hill and we shall be able to see what
visitors to his 18th Century house saw, that made him famous as a
connoisseur.  Nowadays, interest and connoisseurship in British Art is
promoted by the aptly named (but independent) 'Walpole Society'
(, named after Horace Walpole, which
publishes a specialist volume each year in return for a modest

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sir William Charles Ross 1794-1860

Painted by Ross c.1809.  Woman and Child as Venus and Cupid.  Apparently only fifteen when he painted this unusual and romantic composition, it is believed to be the first miniature that the artist exhibited at the Royal Academy, London.

Sir William John Newton (1785-1869), who taught Ross.   Miss Charlotte Cracroft (later Lady de Hochepied Larpent) c.1812. Master and pupil paint the same sitter, fourteen years apart.

Signed and dated 1826.  Lady de Hochepied Larpent.  Ross's mature style

Drawing  by Ross of Elizabeth Horrocks (nee Miller) c.1856, a few years before Ross's death in 1860.  Mrs. Horrocks was the sister of Thomas Miller, the industrial despot on whom Charles Dickens based Mr. Bounderby in his novel 'Hard Times'. This drawing is now in the Harris Museum in Preston. (

The details and images of Venus and Cupid and Mrs. Horrocks are courtesy of Mr. Andrew Sim ( to whom we offer our thanks.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

An Invitation to Buckingham Palace

A few weeks ago, we heard that The Royal Collections had purchased a copy of our book, ‘THE ARTURI PHILLIPS COLLECTION: A Catalogue of Portrait Miniatures’. We were also invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace. The envelope duly arrived, unmistakably with a postmark
'Buckingham Palace' although it was sent from the office at St. James PalaceThe Royal mail is collected from the palaces by liveried coachmen in one of the royal coaches and taken to the sorting office! This is to exercise the horses and to get them used to the busy London traffic. 
In a rather unexpected modern twist, we were invited to RSVP by email!!  Which we did!!  There was a ripple of excitement in the art world at the prospect of the reception, and a lot of guessing and second
guessing as to who had been invited.  The occasion was held to mark the publication of the catalogue of H.M. The Queen’s Victorian Miniatures – over 1000 of them – photographed and catalogued by the Queen’s Assistant Curator, Vanessa Remington, who had access to Queen Victoria’s diaries and papers.

  For those of you not invited, you will be pleased to hear that it was not a lavish affair. There was no dress code, but nearly all the gentlemen wore dark suits. Guests were greeted, without fuss, by smiling uniformed attendants, both men and women, from all age groups and backgrounds.  There was not a whiff of security anywhere.  And certainly no X-Ray scanners or handbag searches!  The sumptuous exhibition, Victoria & Albert: Art and Love  - recently extended to run until end December by popular demand – was a fitting backdrop  to the intimate world of the miniature artform.

With Christmas in prospect, Roger promply put the ornate carved ivory throne encrusted with diamonds, rubies and emeralds on his ‘wish list’ , presented to Queen Victoria in 1851 by the Maharajah of Travancore.

Carmela settled for Sir Edwin Landseer’s  gorgeous portrait of  Victoria, the Princess Royal, with Eos nuzzling her little foot, commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1841 to give to her husband, Prince Albert for his birthday. 

On arrival, we were offered a choice of a glass of  chardonnay  or lemon and lime fizz.   Miniscule little mouthfuls of food were served, without plates, cutlery or napkins, throughout the reception on little oblong glass trays, underlit and with pink and white lilies in the bottom compartment.  Mini lamb burgers in tiny bread baps  topped with goats’ cheese, quails eggs and dips, little quiches and tartlets and other dainty morsels. 
Vanessa Remington came over to talk to us, dressed in an elegant black dress. She spent eight years cataloguing the Queen’s Victorian miniatures, taking time out to have three children! ‘Insiders’ had expected HRH Prince Charles to attend.  He is known to be particularly interested in miniatures and is Patron of the Royal Miniature Society.  In the event, there was no representative from the Royal Family, but this did not dampen the enjoyment and enthusiasm of participants.

  Amongst the invitees, who made up a veritable Who’s Who of the Art World, were the legendary Sir Roy Strong, sporting a new look, almost unrecognisable, looking more like an older rock star than an art historian and former Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Alan Derbyshire, who is in charge of conservation at the V & A, Bernd Pappe, author and conservator of miniatures at the Louvre Museum.  Of course the well known miniature dealer and connoiseur, David Lavender and his wife, Patricia, had been invited, as were the experts from all the major auction houses. 

  We were introduced to several decendants of famous artists, including the friendly and enthusiastic Henry Engleheart , the great nephew of the 'great' man himself, George Engleheart.  During conversation we embarrassingly discovered that we had been bidding against him in  an auctions as he tried to regain his ancestor's fine work!  He and his wife generously took no offence and continued to chat to us amiably.  The evening resulted in many invitations and renewing of acquaintance.   Proceedings were discreetly brought to a close when staff circulated to collect wine glasses, murmuring ‘thank you’s’ and wishing guests ‘goodnight’.  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ten Modern Day Masterpieces

Who says miniature painting around the turn of the 20th Century was dead? Here are ten miniatures, all painted between 1890-1927 that we would consider exceptional

1901 Miss Mason painted by Ellen Louisa Stansfeld on ivory

1895 Miss Olga Cartwright Dickson painted by Alice Mott on ivory

                   c.1890 Mrs. C. A. Goodday painted by Hugh Nicholson on porcelain

c.1895 Two brothers painted by Lillian Wright on ivory

1907 A Champion Boxer painted by Amy Gertrude Chamberlin on ivory

c.1895 A Young Man painted by Mabel Lee Hankey on ivory

c.1895 Mrs. Yardley painted by Carlotta Nowlan on ivory

1918 Miss Frances Weir Cuthbert painted by Ethel C. Bailey on ivory

c.1910 A Spanish Toreador painted by Miss Blanche Hacker on ivory

1893 Master William George Barnes aged 6 painted by Robert Henderson on ivory

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

John Graff 1836-1903 (Swiss) enamel portrait miniature painter

A 'Rajah' pocket watch by Marcks & Co. Ltd. c.1895

 During the latter half of the nineteenth century, a number of Swiss artists painted enamel portraits to be mounted into heavy gold pocket watches for the Indian Market. The watch movements were usually complicated and with as many decorations as possible and were made by companies like Marcks & Amp. Co Ltd. with the enamel miniature of the owner mounted on one side and the watch face on the other. These pocket watches became known as 'The  Rajah Watches'. 

 The watch movements were mainly produced by the highly specialised watch manufacturers in the Vallée de Joux or Le Locle and delivered to the case makers in Geneva. The cases were almost exclusively done in the workshops of Ferrero, Tardy, Bonifas, Giron and Lamunière, based in Geneva. Important Indian clients often supplied the diamonds and other precious stones to be set onto their watches.

Some years ago we purchased one of these enamel portraits, signed 'JG', (without the watch!) and we had no idea what we had purchased until we were kindly supplied with the vital information by Roni and later Julian, two very kind gentlemen who put us on the right track.  The enamel portrait shown above is of HH Maharaja Rajendra Singh Bahadur of Patiala  and is signed by  John Graff.

John Graff worked from  photographs sent from India and was the acknowledged master in his field. He became one of Geneva's most famous enamel painters who was said to be able to catch 'an incredible likeness even from the most mediocre documents'. He was also renowned for his sense of colour and the astonishing relief of his work. John Graff's fame quickly spread throughout India and the dignitaries would often request his signature on the watches and boxes they ordered. His works were signed "J. Graff" or "J.G." or "Graff".  However, he was harbouring a secret method of working, which only becomes obvious with high magnification!

Five examples of "Rajah Watches" with enamel portraits of high dignitaries signed John Graff are illustrated in
Technique and History of the Swiss Watch" by Eugène Jaquet & Alfred Chapuis, plate 133.

Enamel miniature painting by John Graff from a Marck & Co pocket watch
from our collection Signed J. G. Date c. 1895
Sitter: Mir Ali Khan Mehoob, Nizam of Hyderabad

Close up detail showing John Graff's superb talent but also showing that the likeness was achieved by over-painting a photograph developed on the enamel base. Some of the 'giveaways' are the shadow under the red of the nostril, the faint shadow of the photograph on the lips and the halo around the face 'blending' the brushwork and the photograph.  Perhaps you can see some other clues if you look carefully! This developing process was invented by Paris photographer Lafond de Camarsac (1821-1905) around 1867, for which he won a Medal.

On the back is stamped '18 carat' and M & Co Ltd
Interestingly a number is scratched under the stamping
'2673' which could have been a reference for which watch this enamel was intended. Alternatively, it could be the serial number of the patent granted for the development of the photographic image.

Another image of the Nizam of Hyderabad, showing the portrait in the watch.

Close up of enamel photominiature shown in first illustration.
A few more examples of 'Rajah' watches and an enamel photominiature in an elaborate gold box shown below.

Our grateful thanks to Roni Madhvani for sending us these additional images and allowing us to use them.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Visit to The Royal Miniature Society Exhibition

If you go down to the Mall today, you're sure of a big surprise....

Held annually at the prestigious Mall Galleries, (just up from Buckingham Palace!) the RMS offers a two week feast of today's top miniature painters' latest works. Entrance is free!

Last Monday, the Gallery was full of people who had come to see the opening ceremony and presentations. Starting from a couple of hundred pounds, original masterworks were on sale and being snapped up by eager collectors. For those looking to spend a smaller sum, beautiful and exclusive greeting cards, representing the works of winning exhibitors, are also on sale.

The Exhibition was opened by Rupert Maas who also presented the Golden Bowl award for the best piece in any medium. Rupert is the picture expert for the BBC's Antiques Roadshow. He was introduced by Elizabeth Meek, the President of the Society.

The Gold Bowl was crafted by Garrard, the Crown Jewellers, in 18 carat gold. The magnificent Bowl was donated to the Society by the previous President, Suzanne Lucas, who being a very practical lady, suggested that if the RMS should ever fall on hard times, the Bowl could be sold to save the Society!

The Gold Bowl Award was won by Iain Gardiner for his work called 'Reflection 4'. He was given a smaller silver gilt replica to keep.

'Reflection 4'.
Although not a portrait miniature we were impressed by the skill and technique of his complicated conversation piece on today's consumerism.

It was then we saw the the genius of Iain's painting ability with the large painting of his mother and father (on the wall behind him). The painting is 22 1/2 x 18 in (56.5 x 46 cm) and is painted in the miniature painting style. The painting took six months to complete and was selected for the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery.

A close up of the faces shows the incredible detail in the painting

Even the shirt is painted showing the material 'fluffing' on the edge!

While at the exhibition we met artist and author, Katherine Tyrrell, who runs a web site called and also one of the worlds most popular blogs on art, This is an excellent site for reports on all the art exhibitions in the UK .