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.