Sunday, January 23, 2011

William Naish and William Thick(e) revisited

Since we first wrote about William Naish and William Thicke and the
similarities in their work, we have had the opportunity to thoroughly
examine a number of miniatures by William Naish, and to do some
research into William Naish' s life.   The breakthrough came when we
acquired a miniature with a Naish trade card on the reverse, an
earlier example than the one we already had.

An early miniature by William Naish, probably painted when he was in his late teens

With his Trade Card on the back. The printed 'Naish' on the card looking very similar to the signature on the one signed example of this artist's work that we have seen

The unsigned miniature already in the collection attributed to William Naish showing his mature style.

 We then compared both of
these with one known signed and another unsigned miniature  (not in our collection), both
ostensibly by William Naish, and obtained examples of engravings after
Naish.  After looking for a while, a distinct set of peculiarities
became apparent, some of which even show up in engravings.  This
caused us to completely change our mind about the possibility of the above
miniature being painted by William Thicke. It perfectly matches the
nuances picked up in all the William Naish miniatures.
 This is what we noticed that the William Naish miniatures had in common:

A small round bare patch of ivory in the corner of the eye, which
looks as though it has been scraped out.

A round patch of light on the chin and a
 block of light coming down over the top lip

Small dark brushstrokes modelling the tip of the nose
-and an oblong shaped light down the centre of the nose

William Thicke's work shares several techniques in common with Naish.
The rather naive appearance.The heavy lines under the eyes. The curvy full mouth. 
The individual strands of hair. Even the modelling at the
tip of the nose looks decidedly similar.  Anyone familiar with
Thicke's miniatures knows that they are modest little affairs, usually
with plain background, but occasionally with a curtain or something
more adventurous.  The background strokes are usually fairly evenly
sized as seen in the following example from the collection

Mr. Nathan Crowe by William Thick(e)
William Thick(e)'s signature on backing board

William Naish, however, uses a variety of different brushstrokes in
his background and frequently changes direction.

An early engraving of a William Naish miniature

 Although we see him
today as a rather quirky and unimportant miniature painter with a
short career (he was only 33 when he died), in his day William Naish made quite a
name for himself and built up a substantial career painting actors and
actresses.  He was described as an 'esteemed' miniature painter and
The Gentleman's Magazine Volume 97, Part 1 1805 wrote on page 203
'Axbridge is the birthplace of two very great geniuses in the art of
painting, Mr. William and Mr. John Naish...The former (William) to the
irreparable loss of the Polite Arts, is lately deceased.'  The magazine
even published a posthumous 'Ode to Mr.William Naish, Limner' written
by a friend.

Friday, January 21, 2011


In 1801, Andrew Plimer married the dark haired, exotic Joanna Louisa
Knight (1774-1861).  The couple had five children, four daughters and
a son, Andrew.  However, Andrew Junior died when just a child.
Images of Plimer's family portraits can be seen in
 Dr. George Williamson's book 'Andrew and Nathaniel Plimer', published in 1903. Many of these would
certainly be considered to be some of his finest work, particularly
the memorable drawings and paintings of his four beautiful daughters.

We recently purchased this large portrait on ivory of Charlotte, his
third daughter, measuring appox.  8.5 x 12 cms (3.1/2" x 4.3/4").  It is an
unusually colourful miniature and a great deal of work has gone into
it.  It shows Charlotte as a young teenager.  Around the time Andrew
Plimer painted it, his career was at an end, and he had stopped
exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1819. The miniature, although no
image appears in Williamson's book, is described in detail on page
109, and its sale referred to at Christies on 12th June 1901, Lot 115,
when it was purchased by Mr. Phillpot for £54.12.  In 1901, this
represented more than a year's wages for an agricultural labourer, or
four months' work for a teacher.  Inquiries to Christies Archives
elicited the information that the miniature, described as a portrait
of Charlotte by Andrew Plimer, had been sold unframed.  The beautiful
rose gold frame with split pearl surround had, therefore, been purpose
made for the painting after 1901.     

A close-up of Charlotte, showing the amount of work the artist had put into it.

 The engraving on the back of the frame with the erroneous
attribution to Plimer's brother, Nathaniel, must have also been
carried out during the last century.  Nathaniel did not have a
daughter called Charlotte.

Andrew Plimer died in 1837 in Brighton, and one by
one, his beloved daughters died young.  Selina, his youngest,
(1909-1841) was only 32. Charlotte (1804-1845) was 41.  Joanna
(1803-1846) was 43.

Image of similar sized miniature by Andrew Plimer of his eldest daughter, Louisa

Only one of Plimer's daughters married,  the eldest,
Louisa (1802-1864) and she was the only child to outlive her
mother.  Louisa died aged 62, three years after her mother, Joanna
Louisa, who died aged 87.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Publications by Dr. Stephen Lloyd for sale

The following signed publications - all in excellent condition - are available for purchase directly from the author (post and packing inclusive in quoted prices):

Richard Cosway, Unicorn Press, London, 2004, hardback, £15

Portrait Miniatures from the Clarke Collection, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2001, paperback, £10

Portrait Miniatures from the Dumas Egerton Collection, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, 2002, Edinburgh, paperback, £10

Portrait Miniatures from the Daphne Foskett Collection, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2003, paperback, £10

Portrait Miniatures from the National Galleries of Scotland, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2004, paperback, £10

Portrait Miniatures from the Merchiston Collection, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2005, paperback, £10

Portrait Miniatures from Scottish Private Collections, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2006, paperback, £10

For further details please contact: Dr Stephen Lloyd, 22 Regent Street, Edinburgh, EH15 2AX, Scotland, UK; email

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


2010 was a good year for new books on miniatures.  At least six were
published (listed below).  Two others were planned, namely catalogues
of portrait miniatures in The Prado Museum in Madrid and the Herzog
Anton Ulrich Museum in Brunswick, Germany.

'The Arturi Phillips Collection: A Catalogue of Portrait Miniatures'
by Roger and Carmela Arturi Phillips.

  ISBN 9782953662504

'Augustin: Jean-Baptiste-Jacques Augustin, Peintre en miniature' by Bernd Pappe.

  ISBN 9782953202960

'La Miniature Portrait de L'intimite' by Jacqueline du Pasquier.

  ISBN 978291554234

'Miniatures in The Wallace Collection' by Stephen Duffy and Christoph Martin Vogtherr.

  ISBN 99780900785832

'Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America' by Wes Seigrist 
ISBN 9780982127834

'Victorian Miniatures In the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen' by Vanessa Remington.

  ISBN 9781905686230

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dora Webb's Commissions For Queen Mary's Dolls House

The Dolls House is on permanent exhibition at Windsor Castle

Queen Mary, Queen Consort to George V, was fond of anything miniature.

 The King's cousin, Princess Marie Louise, had the idea to give her a
'miniature' present with a difference and commissioned a fabulous
dolls house.  The dolls house was to be a showcase for British artists
and craftsmen and took 1500 artisans three years to complete.  The
house itself - a grandiose four storey structure with working lights
and plumbing - was designed by the great architect Sir Edwin Lutyens
and was built on a scale of 1:12.  It was finished in 1924.

  Tiny rugs were designed and hand woven, leather bound books for the library
included new stories especially written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and
Somerset Maugham, and little bottles of wine for the wine cellar were
filled with the wine indicated on the label.

 The Foyer

The Dining Room

  Amongst the top artists,
miniature painter Mahala Theodora 'Dora' Webb received ten
commissions, including a 3.9. x 2.7 cm (approx 1" x 1.1/2")
portrait of Edward, Prince of Wales. 

Edward, Prince of Wales by Dora Webb
Hung somewhere in the Dolls House!

(The 'ARMS' after her signature referred to her associate membership of The Royal Miniature Society)

 Coming from a family of artists,
and with precocious talent, Dora Webb had a facility for painting
animals and landscapes as well as people

'Spot' by Dora Webb in our collection
painted in 1903

Two Poodles by Dora Webb in our collection
painted in 1959 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Opening a Portrait Miniature painted by Frederick Buck

Where possible we always open up the frame holding a miniature.  It is particularly exciting
 if the frame is original and has never appeared to have been opened before.
We do this for several reasons.

 There is always the possibility that there might be information about the miniature inside, such as the identity of the sitter or perhaps a signature or note by the artist. Over the years we have made many exciting discoveries which have added to the historical value and interest of the miniatures. We refer to the occasions when we make a discovery as a 'bingo' moment. Apart from signatures or sitter's names we have found instructions from the artist to the framer and even  a record of the hours worked on the miniature and the price. Of course these 'bingo' moments don't happen every time and sometimes,  there is no further information inside.  

Another reason we like to open up a miniature frame is that it allows us to clean the various parts such as the glass underside (which on a miniature several hundred years old can be very dirty) and re polish the frame. The cleaning of the actual miniature surface, other than a light dusting with a very soft brush, should certainly be done by a conservator unless you have knowledge and experience in cleaning watercolour paintings.

 We have also found that some artists glued the ivory onto the backing support card with a strong glue which has resulted over many years in the ivory becoming 'bowed' and maybe even cracked. This is due to the differing expansion and the contraction rates of two dissimilar materials bonded together. A conservator is able to remove the backing board to release the ivory and allow it to return to it's original flatness. 

Finally, removing the miniature from it's frame  allows detailed photography, without the glass diminishing the quality of the photograph.

c.1805. An unknown gentleman by Frederick Buck.

This miniature was included with another in a lot we purchased at auction. We are not fans of Frederick Buck's work but he is a well known  artist. 

Born in Ireland around 1771, Frederick and his older brother, Adam, both became miniature painters. Frederick lived and worked in Cork and with soldiers leaving port to go to war he had a steady stream of clients wanting to leave their likeness with their loved ones or to take a miniature of their loved one with them. He had a production line of ivory blanks with various regiment uniforms already painted, waiting for the head of the sitter to be added, not always perfectly aligned!  His naive painting method is very recognizable and in fact is quite popular with collectors, especially his miniatures of red coated soldiers.  

In the above example , the gold frame was badly damaged.

The edge of the frame was badly bent in various places where someone had tried unsuccessfully to prise the frame open.

Here brute force had broken one of the connecting pins through the frame.

Frames are made in many different ways. A lot of the eighteenth and nineteenth century miniature frames were manufactured in two halves and kept together with brass pins around the edge. The pins in late nineteenth and early twentieth century frames are usually easy to extract because the pins have heads, but many frames have tapered pins around the edge and these are ground flush, such as with this miniature. It is impossible to open such a frame without removing the pins either by pushing them through the connecting frames or drilling them out. 

After removing the pins the frame was opened for the first time in two hundred years.

Here we show the various components of the frame disassembled

1 and 2 - Front and Back frame

3 - The miniature on ivory 

4 - Blue Bristol glass adornment for rear of frame.

5 - Backing pad for Bristol glass made from an old hand painted playing card.

6 - Centre compartment for rear of frame usually used for holding a lock of hair of the sitter.

7 - Backing support for the ivory made from an old trade card.

The backing support card in this case did not have any information on the sitter. It does have a  doodle, a coffee stain (?) and some numbers which look like 32000, 10000, £11 and 470.

Perhaps the £11 referred to the price.

A close up  under special light shows the quick coarse brushwork. 

Perhaps more caricature than other artists' work, Buck used a uniform pale grey/blue wash for the background and always a short, sharp line at the tip of the nose.

Having taken the miniature apart and photographed its components, we noted that the miniature itself was a little bowed.  We decided that the backing card had to come off,  as this would probably have caused it to warp.  This revealed an unexpected discovery! On the reverse of the ivory, Buck had made some bold embellishments, to an extent that we have never encountered before.  This is a little trick that some artists used to accentuate the colours of the miniature as the translucence of the ivory allows the reverse painting to show through. Clearly, the fact that the backing card was stuck to the ivory, demonstrates that Buck had thought his 'little secret' was safe!  If anyone else has a miniature by Buck with similar hidden 'attributes', we would love to hear from you.

Having now got to know him intimately, we have come to accept this frowning gentleman with startling blue eyes,  and decided to keep him as an example showing the typical work of a well known journeyman miniaturist.

Frederick Buck c.1771-1840