Monday, March 22, 2010
PORTRAIT MINIATURE BUYING GUIDE - A Tutorial in 5 Installments
This comprehensive tutorial was generously contributed by my good friend Stefanie Deutsch, who has been collecting antique miniatures for more than ten years, and is currently working on a book about portrait miniatures. She is also the author of two books on vintage Barbie dolls: "Barbie, The First 30 Years" (published by Collector Books, the third edition just came out) and "Barbie" (published in the German Battenberg Verlag).
There are basically two types of portrait miniature buyers: people who buy for decorative value, and serious collectors (and, of course, dealers who cater to both types of buyers).
If you are looking for something pretty, like a hand-painted miniature of a lovely, regal lady dressed in the style of the 18th century, you can find an extensive offering on ebay at any given time. Over 80% of all miniatures offered - either on-line or at shows, and even in antique shops - are what are known in the trade as "Decorative Miniatures."
By and large, decorative miniatures are mass-produced copies of (or in the style of) famous paintings which hang in museums, and were mostly produced in Germany from the early 1900's up to the second World War. Often, sellers offer these as original portraits because they don't know better. These attractive items, while now becoming antiques in their own right, were not made to deceive the public, but rather to satisfy a growing market demand for small, affordable pieces of decorative art.
Produced in studios mainly in Germany, France and Italy, they were popular with the European middle class, and with the flourishing tourist trade in Europe (who bought them as souvenirs). Most often, the miniatures came in frames fashioned out of old piano keys, and sometimes in ornate brass fames. Nearly all of these miniatures depict either beautiful young ladies, famous composers, historical figures (Napoleon, Josephine, etc.), or religious subjects (saints). Many of these are "signed" with French-sounding names. The quality of these paintings varies greatly. While some are very well painted, others are crudely over-painted on a photographic base. Serious collectors of miniatures avoid these decorative pieces, and will only look for the "real thing": a unique painting of an actual sitter, made by a real artist.
Stay tuned for Part II of PORTRAIT MINIATURE BUYING GUIDE ... to be posted tomorrow.