The Modern Miniature Craze by H. M. Tindall


A painter once made a miniature of King Charles II. which was more or less of a caricature. "Is that like me?" said the King when he saw it. "Then, odd's fish, I'm an ugly fellow!"

The remark recalls another made to our own Queen when she said to Chalon, the miniaturist, that photography would ruin his profession.

"Ah! non, madame; photographie cannot flattère," was the confident reply.

"KATHLEEN". [By M. Josephine Gibson.
MA BELLE." [By M. Josephine Gibson.

These comments seem to imply that miniatures make either "ugly fellows" or flattered dames, which is by no means true. But in selecting those which accompany this article, we sought for pretty faces, and decided to admit no "fellows" of any sort except one—no less than a Lord Chief Justice.

The very marked attention which the miniatures in the Royal Academy attracted this year is one of many things which show how great a revival there has been in the taste for miniatures—a revival which is one of the most significant features in the history of modern art.

When photography appeared, it had no difficulty for a time in sweeping miniatures out of the field, for many people preferred the novelty of an exact portrait to a "work of art."

But the pendulum of taste has again swung back. We no longer accept a coloured photograph as a substitute for a genuine miniature, but realise that the two things are quite distinct. At the same time, there are to-day a number of so-called miniaturists who content themselves with copying photographs. But all those whose work is here represented condemn the practice, and do their work from the life. This involves, of course, several sittings for the person to be painted—a fact sometimes resented. Two famous miniaturists wanted to paint King Charles II., so to save time he made them paint him at the same sitting.

Mr. Cecil Rhodes is a man who thinks sittings are superfluous. He gave a commission to Miss Carlisle—a clever portrait painter and miniaturist—to paint his portrait, but nothing could induce him to give a sitting. Miss Carlisle therefore had to dodge him in all sorts of ways to see what manner of man he was.

He used to pass her studio on his way to the Park in the morning, so Miss Carlisle was always on the watch for him and on many other occasions, about which he knew nothing.

[By Edith Maas.

"DELIA." [By Edith Maas.    [By Maud Coleridge.    [By Annie G. Fletcher.

Miss Carlisle was born in South Africa, where her grandfather, General Sir John Bisset, was well known. Curiously enough, when Miss Carlisle was quite a young girl she came over to England on the same boat as Mr. Cecil Rhodes. He was then, she says, "a long and lanky youth, who spent all his time in reading books." He was coming to Oxford to keep his terms.

By the way, there was a famous lady miniaturist in the days of Charles I. named Carlisle, and to show his appreciation of her work the King presented her with £500 worth of ultramarine!

To paint a miniature is as arduous a task as to paint a large picture in oils, and requires quite as much skill. Miss Coleridge—whose miniature of her uncle, Chief Justice Coleridge, attracted so much attention in the Academy this year, and is reproduced on p. 202—says: "I find the work, though I love it, even harder than painting large portraits; it requires quite as much thought and care. It is only by working straight from the life, studying your model's expression and character, that you can hope to be even the most humble disciple of the art as it was in the last century.

"The great difficulty I experience is in getting people to understand that they must sit to me. They all say, 'Miss or Mr. So-and-So paints from photos—why can't you?' No doubt these artists do a very charming lightly-stippled coloured photo for them, but there can never be any life in these things, nor can they be anything else than coloured photographs, however pleasant to the eye of their owners."

The portrait of Miss Wilson, one of the beauties of the season, is also by Miss Coleridge, who works a great deal in pastels.

Many amusing stories are told by artists about their sitters, but as a rule the stories are told with this absurd restriction: "but you mustn't publish that"—which, of course, takes the point absolutely away.

Mr. Alyn Williams, the President of the Society of Miniature Painters, to whom the Society owes its origin and prosperity, tells a good story which he does not claim to be original. He tells it rather to show the difficulties which an artist is sometimes made to overcome by his client.

A man who distinctly came from the provinces once went to an artist who had painted a celebrated picture of David, and said that he wanted him to paint a picture of his father.

The artist consented, and suggested that it would be necessary for the subject to come to his studio. That, however, the son declared to be impossible, and at last the fact came out that he was dead.

"Have you a photograph?" asked the artist.

No; a photograph had never been taken.

"Then I cannot paint him," declared the artist.

"But you painted David," retorted the man, "and he has been dead much longer than my father!"

This was irresistible, and so the artist consented to do his best.

When the fancy picture of the father was finished, the faithful son came to see it, and liked it very much.

"It is very good," he said. "But," he added, after a little reflection, "how he has changed!"

[By Alyn Williams.[By A. R. Merrylees.[By Mabel E. Hankin.

Miss Merrylees, whose miniatures, seven in number, make a fine show at the Academy, once had to paint a miniature of a clergyman; but the only way of getting his right expression was to make him recite long poems and dramatic scenes from Shakespeare. While he was doing this, Miss Merrylees "went on painting madly."

Another time she was painting a little boy, who was sitting very still and silent.

Suddenly he convulsed his painter by propounding this tremendous query: "Do you like your groom to sit so, or so?" And he indicated two varieties of the akimbo manner.

A charming portrait of a pretty child indicates Miss Merrylees' style of work. This was exhibited both in the Royal Academy and the Paris Salon.

Holbein, who was a great miniaturist, had a very summary method of dealing with people who troubled him while he was painting miniatures. A nobleman once came into his studio while he was painting a lady, and was promptly thrown downstairs, like Daddy Longlegs of immortal fame.

The King, Henry VIII., heard of it, but sympathised with the painter. "Of seven peasants I can make as many lords, but not one Holbein," he said.

King Henry had a special reason for this sympathy. When he heard of a pretty woman he sent Holbein to paint her, with a view to making her his wife. On one occasion, at least, a flattering miniature led its unhappy subject into trouble—Anne of Cleves.

MRS. C. L. SHAND. [By Edith Maas.
MISS PAMELA PLOWDEN. [By Winifred Hope Thomson.

A word should be said about the origin of the miniature. In the first instance the word had nothing to do with the size of a painting. It comes from the Latin word minium, or red lead. In old days the capitals of illuminated missals were painted with this by great artists, while the less important work was done by minor ones. Thus the miniatura meant the picture painted by the great artist. The word miniature, in its present sense, was born in the 18th century, which was the best period of British miniature painting.

The material on which miniatures have been painted has varied from time to time. To-day ivory cut very thin is almost invariably used.

The elephant is not a graceful or artistic beast, and no particularly sentimental thoughts at first sight attach to him. But artists to-day would be at a loss without his tusks, and much sentiment is lavished on them in the form of lovers' portraits.

While love lasts the miniature will always be in vogue, for artists frankly admit that it is so convenient to carry in the pocket. It represents so much in so little. Miniature painting is especially therefore "the lovers' art." Some say that it makes the subject "beautiful for ever," and what more could Romeo want?

Ivory, however, is of comparatively modern use in the art world and the studio. Vellum, gold, silver, and enamel were the things on which miniatures were painted before the days of ivory.

The prices of these dainty pictures vary enormously. As much as £3,000 was paid for one in the Hamilton collection, while another in a diamond setting sold at Christie's for £2,000. Nowadays, £5 to £100 is easily obtained, according to the skill of the painter.

Her Majesty the Queen is a great collector of miniatures. Her collection at Windsor is of great historic as well as financial value. She has greatly encouraged the art, and has been repeatedly painted in miniature. She frequently gives these miniatures of herself away as special presents.

Miss Carlisle painted one of the Queen with which she was very pleased. She gave it to the Prince of Wales, who said that it was the best of his mother which had been painted for many years.

To deal in detail with the miniatures on these pages. Mr. Alyn Williams is the painter of the charming portrait of a lady in the Gainsborough style.

Miss Küssner, who is represented by a miniature of Lady Dudley, has already painted an enormous number of ivories. She arrived in New York in 1893 an unknown girl, with a letter of introduction to a lady of social influence, but "very exclusive."

THE PRIDE OF ENGLAND. By Esmé Collings [By Esmé Collings.

In much fear and trembling the letter was presented. The lady was too unwell to see the artist, but she sent word down that she would see the miniature she had with her.

"This was almost more than she could bear, and she sat waiting the maid's return in sadness that was near despair. But when she did come, how the little miniaturist's sinking heart leaped; for the maid brought an invitation—the lady would see her in her own room." So a friend tells the tale.

Since then Miss Küssner has pained many of the English aristocracy, and gets £100 a miniature.

This is how Miss Küssner works. First comes the study of her sitter, and perhaps one entire sitting will be devoted to this. Then follows the sketching of the face on the ivory—a transcript of the form and spirit. Lastly comes the actual painting, with infinitesimally small brushes, each stroke made under a powerful magnifying glass.

Lady Dudley's marriage was quite a romance. She was the daughter of Mr. Gurney, of Norfolk, whose business reverses caused him to resign his partnership in the well-known Gurney Bank and surrender his possessions for the benefit of his creditors.

His wife came to London and opened a milliner's shop, and in this her two daughters served. But it was not a success, and so the daughters entered the employ of a well-known West End modiste. But the Duchess of Bedford and Lady Henry Somerset became interested in them; and it was as the adopted daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford that Rachel Gurney married Lord Dudley.

Miss Winifred Hope Thomson, whose miniature of Miss Pamela Plowden we give, had the place of honour in the miniature room of the Academy this year. Simplicity of style is the feature of Miss Thomson's work, and probably the reason why her miniatures are considered like those of the great Cosway.

"DAFFODIL." By E. J. Harding. [By E. J. Harding.
HON. MRS. BENYON. By Edith Maas. [By Edith Maas.

Miss Edith Maas is another lady whose miniatures are very greatly admired for their beauty and style. Her portrait of Delia, the daughter of the Rev. and Hon. Ed. Lyttelton, Head Master of Haileybury College, has been exhibited in the New Gallery. The other miniatures we give are of Mrs. Shand, wife of His Honour Judge Shand, and the Hon. Mrs. Benyon, daughter of Lord North. The latter was exhibited in the '93 Academy.

The number of ladies well known as clever miniature painters is quite extraordinary, and with but few exceptions all the portraits on these pages were painted by ladies.

Miss M. Josephine Gibson sends us two charming pictures which she calls "Ma Belle" and "Kathleen." These are exquisite, both in conception and execution. Mrs. Lee Hankey, who, with Miss Gibson, is on the Council of the Society of Miniature Painters, is represented by one strong picture. "Daffodil" is by Mrs. E. W. Andrews, also known as "E. J. Harding." All these ladies have miniatures in this year's Academy.

From the studios of Mr. Esmé Collings, of Bond Street, comes the charming miniature of two girls' heads, originally painted in black and white. This gentleman has published a very dainty little brochure on "The Revival of Miniature Art," which gives some romantic stories about miniatures and their painters.

One tells how the Comte de Guiche, being in love with a daughter of Charles I., wore her portrait, mounted on a snuff box, over his heart, and owed his life to this circumstance, for the box turned aside a bullet which struck him in battle—a hint which all soldiers should take. This box is now in the possession of the Baroness Burdett-Coutts.

Other stories tell of Richard Gibson and Miss Biffin, both gifted miniaturists. But the first was a dwarf, 3 feet 10 inches high, who married another dwarf of his own height who lived till she was ninety-seven, and became the mother of nine children. As for Miss Biffin, she was limbless, but managed her paint-brush and pencil with her mouth.

LADY DUDLEY. By Miss Küssner. [By Miss Küssner.

Of course there are miniatures and miniatures. But Shakespeare, by a miniature in words, has given us an exquisite conception of what a miniature in art should be—at least when it is "Fair Portia's counterfeit."

"... Here in her hair
The painter plays the spider, and hath woven
A golden mesh to entrap the hearts of men
Faster than gnats in cobwebs; but her eyes—
How could he see to do them? having made one,
Methinks it should have power to steal both his,
And leave itself unfurnished."

But Bassanio was not an art critic—merely a lover! The miniaturist, however, who can weave on ivory "a golden mesh to entrap the hearts of men" may surely find content.

THE LATE LORD COLERIDGE. By Maud Coleridge. [By Maud Coleridge.