We are all very familiar with the miniature portraits of Jane Austen’s family that exist- her father’s, by an unknown artist springs to mind- but possibly the most accomplished miniatures associated with her , and my favourites, are those of her youthful love, Tom Lefroy and of her aunt, Philadelphia Hancock.
This miniature of Tom, above, was painted by George Englehart, (1752-1829) a leading English miniaturist of the late 18th/early 19th century. The wistful portrait of Jane’s aunt, Philadelphia Hancock, below, is by John Smart (1741-1811), and is now part of the collection at the Jane Austen House Museum:
If you would like to learn more of Englehart’s or Smart’s work, or of miniatures in general, then new resource might be of interest to you. The Cleveland Museum of Art has recently published online part of its wonderful collection of miniatures. Go here to see it all. It is a fascinating and very intelligently organised collection.
Organised by artist, alphabetically, it is a delight to click on each artist’s entry to discover the holdings in the collection. This, below is the section for Richard Cosway (1742-1821) who was one of the most accomplished of early 19th century miniature artists, Englehart’s main rival, and an artist who was patronised by The Prince Regent:
The site lists a potted biography for each artist, and the history of each miniature, with information on the sitter, is also given. The digital project is written by Cory Korkow, and he should be congratulated for creating such a well designed and informative site. For example, this miniature by Englehart of Sir Thomas Baring of the famous banking dynasty, has the following information:
Details of both sides of the miniature are included- the reverse includes a plaited lock of hair- and there is also a scale so that you can appreciate the size of the miniature in question.
Then you can access a detailed catalogue entry which contains the provenance of the picture, bibliography, and details of the sitter. In addition there is a wonderful close up of each miniature in order that we can not only examine the miniature’s exquisite detail, but also the artist’s technique:
Here, for example, you can compare Englehart’s technique with Cosway’s by examining the exquisite detail of his miniature of Louis-Phillippe of France:
Isn’t this marvellous? This is the Museum’s pilot project and deserves to be applauded. It is, in fact, the first stage of the online catalogue to be made available to the public . It currently includes 54 British portrait miniatures from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Publication of the remaining British works will be ongoing though out the year.
If only all collections were accessible in this way….