Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Like many miniature painters of that time, the artist usually used genderless initials to sign her work, F. E. Howell.  She did not use her first Christian name but referred to herself as 'Ethel' Howell rather than Florence Ethel Howell.
Miniature of her sister, Mrs. Margery Henderson, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1914

From this image of her sister, we can get an idea of what the artist might have looked like.  Pale complexion, light brown hair and strong, handsome features.  The artist often favoured the profile or almost profile pose and succeeds in making it an arresting and interesting portrait

The artist's typical signature

Exhibition Label

Using our Dictionary of Miniature Painters 1870-1970, we can see that this artist exhibited between 1913-1935 at the Royal Academy and the Royal Miniature Society.  Her father was a Cane Stick Manufacturer and the family lived at 20 Highbury Quadrant, Islington.  She lived with her family until she married  Leonard Montague Nash, a Greengrocer, in 1919.  This information shows that the label above, detailing her married name as 'Nash' was added later.

A haunting miniature by the same artist of 'Marguerite', signed and dated 1916, possibly also a member of her family, judging by the strong features and distinctive colouring

Close up showing the difficult 'almost' profile pose.  Like the other miniature, this had to undergo conservation work to separate the ivory from the backing sheet to which it was stuck, causing the ivory to 'buckle'.  Unless released, the ivory would eventually crack. Standards of Conservation work were in their infancy 100 years (or even 50 years ago) and it was mistakenly thought that by sticking the ivory portrait to a cardboard backing sheet, it would be 'supported' and prevent curvature and cracking.  Sadly, this very practice has been responsible for many bowed and cracked miniatures.

An unattached cardboard backing sheet showing a pencil sketch of an elderly man, possibly a preparatory sketch for another miniature.

A later label showing the artist's married name

The original Exhibition Label showing the price of 8 guineas asked for this miniature.  This price was a little below the 'top' price of 10 guineas that was usually asked for a head and shoulders portrait.  Using the average wage today and then to make a rough financial comparison, this price would be the equivalent of about £1500 today.  


  1. Thanks for the interesting post on the Revival Period miniatures! Marguerite is especially lovely to me. I've managed to come across one or two old catalogues with prices listed (American) and it's surprising that they were getting then what would be considered normal to high now without adjusting for financial comparison! ~ Wes

  2. I have long been ennamored by Frances Ethel Howell's portrait of "Marguerite". Wanting to discover this unknown Marguerite's story, I have researched Ethel's family history extensively (back a few generations and sideways amongst layers of cousins) and, sadly, have found no family member by the name of Marguerite. Thus, unless the name of Marguerite was used as a nickname, it would seem that she is not related to the artist; and her identity remains a mystery.

    In my research, I have also discovered that Frances Ethel Howell didn't marry greengrocer Leonard Montague Nash. Rather, in 1919, she married Leonard Myddelton Nash (1877-1957), a chemical analyst and a fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry.

    In coming months, I will be publishing a scholarly paper on Frances Ethel Howell. In the meantime, I would be happy to share any information I have with those who may be interested.

    Kind regards,
    Michael Tormey

  3. Looking back on my previous comment, it dawns on me that I misspelled the artist's name. She is, of course, Florence Ethel Howell.