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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.
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