Sunday, October 19, 2014


The RMS is holding its annual exhibition in The Mall Galleries, London SW1 (just off Trafalgar Square).   With about 600 exhibits including miniatures, sculptures and painted boxes, it shows off the incredible talents of living artists from all over the world, with most of the items on display for sale.  Prices range from the low hundreds to several thousand pounds.   

Not only is it a wonderful exhibition - and it is free entry - but there are practical demonstrations with opportunity to talk to artists about their work and see them painting. As usual, there is an exclusive range of well-priced greeting cards for sale.  A fantastic way to spend a few hours.

This year the new President of the Society, Rosalind Pierson, takes over from the much-loved and revered artist, Elizabeth Meek.  With impeccable timing, Rosalind managed to win the foremost award this year 'The Prince of Wales Award for Miniature Painting'.  

Our own award went to Suzanne Bradley, who makes a speciality of painting animals.  We could not resist 'Murphy' for its excellence.  

Murphy by Suzanne Bradley

Why not call in if you are in London?  The exhibition is open 10.00 - 5.00 daily until Sunday 26th October 2014 (closing 1.00 p.m. on final day).

Saturday, March 8, 2014

THE GENIUS OF ROBERT LEE KEELING (born Baltimore c. 1864)

Robert Lee Keeling was born in Baltimore, USA.  His father, Robert James Keeling, was a clergyman.  His mother was Elizabeth Bend Polk (1830-1874) and her son's miniature of her is now in the New York Historical Society Museum.  He had a sister, Rose, who married Stilson Hutchins, the founder of the Washington Post, and the couple became well known in the newspaper Society columns.   

By the time he was 16, Keeling's family had moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and the 1880 Census reveals that he was still at school at that time.  In June 1891 the New York Times reported that a sketch performed at the Lyceum Theatre called 'A Lesson in Acting' featured a young Robert Lee Keeling 'hitherto unheard of, was the real thing....'   Although Keeling started his career as a stage actor, by the time he was in his 30's he was a miniature painter of great repute.   It is not known where he trained as an artist.   

In  March 1893 the New York Times announced that Keeling was to marry Nannie Key Michell (nee Tyson), a widow some 20 years older than him, previously married to a wealthy auctioneer.

Keeling's reputation as a miniature painter soon took on near legendary status on both sides of the Atlantic.  American newspapers made much of his Royal commissions  to paint Queen Alexandra in 1901, and King Edward VII the following year.  He painted many a famous family in both Europe and America and gossip about his personal life featured in a clutch of newspapers in 1897, when his first wife, Nannie Key Keeling , from whom he was estranged, aged 'in her fifties', was found dead in her home.   Apparently the marriage was unhappy and the couple had soon separated, with Nannie living most of the time in New York and Keeling living in Washington.  Even the New York Times ran the story in its September 19th 1897 edition.

Keeling was a frequent visitor to England and exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1905. He mixed with the cream of society with families like the Vanderbilts and Stuyvesants and his comings and goings were dutifully recorded in the Social Pages - what parties he attended, where he was staying, who he was seeing.  

This miniature by him dated 1903 may possibly be his second wife, Caroline.  Originally in a gold frame and kept in its Tiffany leather travel case purchased from Bond Street, London, the suggestion is that it was painted in London.  The romantic and superb setting of the miniature attest to it being a gift of love.  

There were still newspaper reports of him living with Caroline Weldon in New York in 1910 but in January 1912, his personal life again became a 'cause celebre' when Caroline divorced him, citing that 'he had failed to provide her with the necessaries of life for the past year... and had deserted her'. Much was made of the fact that she was a great beauty.  Having been granted the divorce, tongues wagged again when she remarried with indecent haste.... to her lawyer.  

New York Times June 18th 1916 showing an image of a miniature by Keeling of Mrs. William A. Hamilton

The dodgy reputation did not appear to harm his career or his  ' invitability' and Keeling was still regularly appearing in the newspaper Social Columns, often accompanied by his married sister, Rose.  His frequent trips to Europe continued with a report in the New York Times October 7th 1922 announcing his recent return and giving his address as 135 East Thirty Fourth Street, New York, an address used by him for some years.  

Keeling miniatures are rare.  He signed his work 'Keeling' with a flashy flourish.  Please let us know if you have one of these miniatures as we would love to see more of his work.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014


Although born in Tasmania, Ada Whiting's work appears to turn up just as frequently in England and America as in Australasia.  During her career as a photographic colourist and later as a miniature painter, Ada painted many of the foremost families of her time, both Australian and visiting British and American dignitaries from her Collins Street, Melbourne studio.  

Two charming portraits of the same sitter, Margaret 'Peggy' Woolrabe (1876-1909) recently came up for auction around the same time; one in Australia and one in England. Peggy Woolrabe, nee Leask, was born in Scotland and married Frederick William Woolrabe in 1902, an Edinburgh-trained doctor ten years her senior.  Peggy died tragically young and the two miniatures, one a head and shoulders and the other a three quarter portrait, were probably both painted after her death.

Ada Whiting usually signed her work in monogram, but it is often overlooked.

Several members of the prominent Ross-Soden family were painted by Ada Whiting around 1906. The miniatures of two charming daughters of Isabel Ross-Soden went out of the family and appeared in an Australian auction at Charles Leski on 30th March 2005.  Lots 84 and 85 at estimates of Aus. $300-400 and Aus.$400-600 failed to find buyers, despite looking so charming. 

 Their mother's portrait, too, Lot 82 and described as 'oil on card' was passed in.  The descendants of this family would love to know what happened to these miniatures.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

EARLY 20TH CENTURY PORTRAIT MINIATURES Miss Ann ('Annie') Underwood (1876-1942)

There must be many miniatures from the early 20th Century hidden in drawers and boxes, and families have now forgotten which relatives they portray and haven't a clue who painted them... and so they end up in auctions labelled 'English' school!
Many of these are often initialled, and sometimes one can be lucky enough to find an exhibition label hidden behind the felt backing pad, which would reveal the name and address of the artist, and perhaps even the identity of the sitter.  It is always best to look!  Most of the frames from this era are the pinchbeck type with little pins holding everything together. 

Faced with this monogram signature,  how many would guess it is AU 1913 with the year divided around the initials?  This is the work of Ann Underwood. 

Although this lady is not a beauty, the miniature is exceptionally well painted, in the traditional way, on ivory.

Ann Underwood lived and worked in Brighton.  She studied initially in Brighton and then under the famously blunt Sir Hubert Herkomer in Bushey, Herts.  Her father was a publican but she preferred the description 'Hotel Proprietor'.  She exhibited at the Royal Academy and Royal Miniature Society from 1911 - c1932.  (details from Dictionary of Miniature Painters 1870-1970 ISBN 9782953662511).

A later miniature by this artist, again with the same monogram, shows an exquisite painting of a young girl, in one of the hardest poses to 'pull off', painted on ivorine c. 1932 

The label on the reverse reveals a price tag of £950!  A veritable fortune in those days!!

A few miniatures by this exceptional artist have appeared for sale in the last couple of years - perhaps you have one tucked away in YOUR attic?  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Hugh Nicholson was born in 1865 in Wandsworth, London.  His mother was Elizabeth Waterer and his father was David Nicholson, a locally well- known and initially very successful builder.  Little is known of Hugh's early life, other than his parents appeared to split up following the financial difficulties with his father's building firm, and then his father's early death.

Mrs. Charlotte Augusta Goodday (nee Field) (1817-1902)
Wife of Dr. Horatio Goodday, Surgeon and Author

Painted on Porcelain c.1890

By 1871 Hugh's mother and siblings had moved to 5 Middleton Terrace, Merton Road, Wandsworth, London.  

Twenty years later, Hugh was working as an artist/miniature painter and living at 8 Thurleigh Road, Balham.
It is a mystery why work by this brilliant artist does not come to light.  He appears to have always signed his work on the front and used his full name rather than a monogram.  He was a founding member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters and exhibited at their exhibitions and elsewhere.

Mrs. W G Pirrie dated 1896
(the year Hugh emigrated to the USA)

Through his sister, Florence, he was uncle to 'Miss Marple' actress, Margaret Rutherford.

Like a number of accomplished Brit artists of the time, In 1896 he emigrated to America, where his work - miniatures in particular - would command a much higher price.  He settled in Baltimore, Maryland at one time living at No. 415 and later No. 417 West Fayette Street.

At some point after 1911, he returned to England, and was thought to have settled in Brighton, Sussex.  It seems likely that he died in Brighton in 1932 at 14a Stone Street, at the time a converted 'fly' stables and since then, a listed building.  It is thought that he was practicing as an artist and photographer. 


If you have a miniature by this artist, or members of your family lived nearby,  we would love to hear from you.