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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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Vestier, Antoine (Avallon 1740-1824 Paris),
Dec 02, 1:00 PM CET
Vestier, Antoine (Avallon 1740-1824 Paris),
by Zisska & Lacher
Est: €460- €700
€4403 Bids
Miniature watercolor portrait of a child with doll
Dec 02, 9:00 AM EST
Miniature watercolor portrait of a child with doll
by Pook & Pook Inc.
Est: $200- $400
$2202 Bids
Portrait Miniature Of Ida, Lady Edmonstone, Singed: Zink 1900
Dec 03, 11:00 AM EST
Portrait Miniature Of Ida, Lady Edmonstone, Singed: Zink 1900
by Ancient Objects
Est: $100- $200
$902 Bids
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MINIATURE PAINTER FAVOUY AND UNKNOWN PAINTER
Dec 03, 1:00 PM CET
MINIATURE PAINTER FAVOUY AND UNKNOWN PAINTER
by Galerie Moenius
Est: CHF100- CHF200
CHF1001 Bid
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PORTRÄTMINIATUR
Dec 12, 10:00 AM CET
PORTRÄTMINIATUR
by Schuler Auktionen
Est: CHF180- CHF240
CHF1801 Bid
Pair of Painted Miniature Portraits.
Dec 17, 10:30 AM PST
Pair of Painted Miniature Portraits.
by Turner Auctions + Appraisals
Est: $80- $120
$401 Bid
Two English George III ebon miniatures depicting the gentleman. H 8cm, W 6cm
Dec 04, 12:00 PM AEDT
Two English George III ebon miniatures depicting the gentleman. H 8cm, W 6cm
by Christian McCann Auctions
Est: AUD300- AUD450
AUD2251 Bid
FOUR-PIECE MINIATURE PORTRAIT PAINTING LOT
Dec 10, 12:00 PM EST
FOUR-PIECE MINIATURE PORTRAIT PAINTING LOT
by Burchard Galleries Inc
Est: $400- $600
$2501 Bid
Miniature watercolor portrait of a child
Dec 02, 9:00 AM EST
Miniature watercolor portrait of a child
by Pook & Pook Inc.
Est: $200- $300
$1001 Bid
Constanze Weber Miniature Portrait Painting
Dec 06, 12:00 PM EST
Constanze Weber Miniature Portrait Painting
by Akiba Antiques
Est: $100- $1,000
$501 Bid
French School, 19th Century
Dec 04, 1:00 PM EST
French School, 19th Century
by Helmuth Stone
Est: $200- $400
$1001 Bid
(3pc) ANTIQUE PORTRAIT MINIATURES
Dec 04, 10:30 AM EST
(3pc) ANTIQUE PORTRAIT MINIATURES
by Butterscotch Auction Gallery LLC
Est: $200- $300
$1201 Bid
Three george III miniature on ivory's of various sizes.
Dec 11, 12:00 PM AEDT
Three george III miniature on ivory's of various sizes.
by Christian McCann Auctions
Est: AUD400- AUD600
AUD3001 Bid
MATHILDE LEHAUT (Née en 1816) Portrait
Dec 09, 2:30 PM CET
MATHILDE LEHAUT (Née en 1816) Portrait
by Accademia Fine Art
Est: €80- €120
€801 Bid
Josef Stieler Miniature Marie of Prussia Portrait
Dec 04, 12:00 PM EST
Josef Stieler Miniature Marie of Prussia Portrait
by Auctions at Showplace
Est: $300- $500
$1001 Bid
Portraitminiaturen.
Dec 17, 10:00 AM CET
Portraitminiaturen.
by Kiefer Buch- und Kunstauktionen
Est: €100- €150
€1000 Bids
MiniaturPorträt der Princesse des Ursins.
Dec 02, 1:00 PM CET
MiniaturPorträt der Princesse des Ursins.
by Zisska & Lacher
Est: €120- €180
€1200 Bids
Grahl, August (Poppentin 1791-1868 Dresden),
Dec 02, 1:00 PM CET
Grahl, August (Poppentin 1791-1868 Dresden),
by Zisska & Lacher
Est: €180- €260
€1800 Bids
Biedermeier-Damenporträt
Dec 03, 10:00 AM CET
Biedermeier-Damenporträt
by Kunstauktionshaus Schloss Ahlden
Est: €120- €240
€1200 Bids
Jean-François de Sompsois
Dec 04, 10:00 AM CET
Jean-François de Sompsois
by Kunstauktionshaus Schloss Ahlden
Est: €220- €440
€2200 Bids
Wood Frame Miniature
Dec 10, 6:00 PM CST
Wood Frame Miniature
by Kelmscott's
Est: $600- $800
$4000 Bids
Framed Miniature
Dec 10, 6:00 PM CST
Framed Miniature
by Kelmscott's
Est: $600- $800
$4000 Bids
A Framed Miniature
Dec 10, 6:00 PM CST
A Framed Miniature
by Kelmscott's
Est: $300- $500
$1000 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Portrait Miniature Paintings


Schuler Auktionen

Schuler Auktionen

Burchard Galleries Inc

Burchard Galleries Inc

Christian McCann Auctions

Christian McCann Auctions

Helmuth Stone

Helmuth Stone