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Portrait Miniature Paintings

Portrait miniatures were the forerunner to the 3x5 photo of today. The height of their production was from roughly 1780-1820, though the first was painted in the 15th century. Miniatures were painted for members of the aristocratic classes, mostly using watercolor or gouache. Originally, miniatures were illustrations in hand-written books, but as the medium became independent of books, the earliest freestanding miniatures were still made on vellum.

Miniatures had a variety of uses. The wealthy class might adorn their clothing with a portrait miniature of the reigning monarch to demonstrate allegiance. A young woman’s parents might send a miniature of their daughter to a potential husband. A husband and wife separated by travel could keep each other’s miniature with them.

Portrait miniatures are highly collectible, and are more affordable than many other works of art because of their diminutive scale. The major auction houses occasionally have either a small selection of miniatures, or even an entire collection assembled by a single collector over many years.


Quick Facts

  • The Victorian and Albert Museum, London has a collection of portrait miniatures from several different countries. The National Museum in Stockholm also has an extensive miniatures collection, but is closed for renovations until 2018
  • "Portrait of a Lady," 1769, by John Smart, one of the leading portrait miniature artists, sold for £23,300 at Sotheby’s London on April 16, 2008
  • Bonhams London sold an undated miniature of Jane Digby, Lady Ellenborough (1807-1881) in a fashionable India green dress, for £13,750 on November 21, 2012

Recommended Items at Auction

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Fine Antique Chinese Miniature Portrait
Oct 30, 1:00 PM EDT
Fine Antique Chinese Miniature Portrait
by Kavanagh Auctions
Est: $20- $15,000
$1404 Bids
J Jones Signed Antique Miniature Portrait Painting
Oct 27, 12:00 PM EDT
J Jones Signed Antique Miniature Portrait Painting
by Hill Auction Gallery
Est: $100- $1,000
$1253 Bids
CLAUDE-JEAN BESSELIÈVRE (VERS 1779-VERS 1830)
Oct 28, 2:30 PM CEST
CLAUDE-JEAN BESSELIÈVRE (VERS 1779-VERS 1830)
by Tajan
Est: €600- €800
€6002 Bids
Victorian Miniature Female Portrait Paintings PAIR
Oct 27, 12:00 PM EDT
Victorian Miniature Female Portrait Paintings PAIR
by Hill Auction Gallery
Est: $100- $1,000
$501 Bid
Miniature, 19th/20th century, por
Nov 05, 10:00 AM CET
Miniature, 19th/20th century, por
by Historia Auktionshaus
Est: €0- €0
€601 Bid
Sarah Bell Bryan's Sister, Miniature 19th C. Portrait
Oct 27, 11:00 AM EDT
Sarah Bell Bryan's Sister, Miniature 19th C. Portrait
by Caza Sikes
Est: $50- $100
$201 Bid
LATE 18TH CENTURY MINIATURE PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN
Nov 13, 10:00 AM EST
LATE 18TH CENTURY MINIATURE PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN
by Marion Antique Auctions
Est: $75- $150
$301 Bid
Three Miniatures
Oct 27, 11:00 AM EDT
Three Miniatures
by Caza Sikes
Est: $50- $75
$201 Bid
An oval miniature depicting Lady Harriet Hobart Countess of Belmore, first half of 19th century
Oct 26, 2:30 PM CEST
An oval miniature depicting Lady Harriet Hobart Countess of Belmore, first half of 19th century
by Bolli & Romiti s.r.l
Est: €600- €800
€6001 Bid
Antique 19th C Watercolor Portrait Miniature
Oct 28, 12:00 PM EDT
Antique 19th C Watercolor Portrait Miniature
by Greenwich Auction
Est: $100- $200
$501 Bid
Rare Portrait Miniature of an African American Man
Nov 05, 12:00 PM EDT
Rare Portrait Miniature of an African American Man
by Alex Cooper
Est: $400- $800
$2001 Bid
3 oil painted miniatures with female and male portraits, 19th century
Oct 26, 2:30 PM CEST
3 oil painted miniatures with female and male portraits, 19th century
by Bolli & Romiti s.r.l
Est: €50- €100
€501 Bid
3 early 19th century miniatures with male and female portraits
Oct 26, 2:30 PM CEST
3 early 19th century miniatures with male and female portraits
by Bolli & Romiti s.r.l
Est: €200- €300
€2001 Bid
2 19th century miniatures, one signed Nicola Rossi (active in Naples in early 19th century)
Oct 26, 2:30 PM CEST
2 19th century miniatures, one signed Nicola Rossi (active in Naples in early 19th century)
by Bolli & Romiti s.r.l
Est: €250- €350
€2501 Bid
A miniature with a portrait of a noble man, signed Pinello, end of 18th century
Oct 26, 2:30 PM CEST
A miniature with a portrait of a noble man, signed Pinello, end of 18th century
by Bolli & Romiti s.r.l
Est: €150- €250
€1501 Bid
A Framed Portrait Miniature of a Military Officer, Signed N. Ruibs (9cm x 7cm)
Oct 28, 10:00 AM AEDT
A Framed Portrait Miniature of a Military Officer, Signed N. Ruibs (9cm x 7cm)
by Lawsons
Est: AUD200- AUD300
AUD1001 Bid
19th Century Antique Miniature Portrait Painting
Oct 27, 12:00 PM EDT
19th Century Antique Miniature Portrait Painting
by Hill Auction Gallery
Est: $100- $1,000
$500 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Portrait Miniature Paintings


Nagel Auction

Nagel Auction

Auktionshaus Wendl

Auktionshaus Wendl

Eldred's

Eldred's

Historia Auktionshaus

Historia Auktionshaus