Friday, October 23, 2009

Visiting Miniature Masterpieces Behind the Scenes at the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art

Last month friend, fellow miniaturist, and Royal Miniature Society member, Justine Woodward contacted me to let me know she would be visiting her daughter in New York City in October, and we thought it would be great to try arranging an appointment similar to one we had arranged five years earlier to view miniatures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It takes some advance planning to arrange such a visit, but it is possible for serious artists, especially those interested in viewing for research purposes or for specific professional inspiration to make an appointment to view works of art in the Museum's permanent collection which are not currently on display.

Collection databases searches are available online at metmuseum.org
(Metropolitan Museum of Art) so I did a search for European miniature paintings, and it took about five hours of research for me to narrow down a list of suggestions. As it turned out, Ms. Mattia of the European Art Dept. brought the suggested portraits out in archived boxes, enabling us to see much more. Although a few including several by Hans Holbein the Younger were in conservation and not available to view, we did see one by Holbein, several by Nicholas Hilliard, as well as the portraits of Jean Baptiste Isabey, Etienne Bouchard, and other French, English, and German miniaturists spanning several centuries.

Justine views one of the archival boxes that we saw. For several hours Ms. Mattia brought out an absolutely thrilling array of miniatures for us to view, providing us with wonderful inspiration from master miniaturists.

When we arrived, Ms. Mattia greeted us and brought out the first box of miniatures, a white cotton glove to carefully check tag numbers, a strong magnifying glass, and a copy of the museum's definitive book on this collection: "European Miniatures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art" by Graham Reynolds, which provides some interesting background infomation on each miniature.

A peek inside one of about nine archival boxes that we saw. This particular box featured some of the miniature works of Jean Baptiste Isabey. The variations in his approach within this box helped us to see how Isabey's style changed over a thirty year span of time.

Taking a closer look at "Madame Jean Baptiste Isabey" (See below a black and white copy from the Met online of this miniature portrait which Isabey painted of his first wife.)


"Madame Jean Baptiste Isabey (Jeanne Laurice de Salienne, died 1829)", 3 3/8" diameter, on ivory, was painted by Jean Baptiste Isabey between 1796 and 1800. She is pictured sewing with a small basket, spools of white thread, and a tiny, tiny pair of sewing scissors. Stylistic differences are revealed between this miniature and the one below, "Mrs. Rufus Prime", which Isabey painted about thirty years later.


"Mrs. Rufus Prime (Augusta Templar Palmer), 5 3/8" x 4", on card, an American bride portrayed by Jean Baptiste Isabey in 1828. I can't adequately convey enough detail with my photograph of this miniature to duplicate the experience of seeing it first-hand, but because this was a larger miniature, it was great to study it's details and brush strokes. It's pastel tones and colors, the translucent fabric and ribbons, were so finely and delicately handled in this later work by Isabey that I found it to be a wonderful source of inspiration.

One box we saw held two bracelets which consisted of linked ovals, each of which held a miniature portrait of a family member, with the mother at one end, each child in the middle and the father on the other end. We imagined and discussed ways that one could create a modern miniature portrait bracelet. Some of the miniatures held sentimental inscriptions on their backs or frame covers, and jeweled trim, or scrimshaw on the back of the ivory. There were also about half a dozen eye portraits, in rings or brooch pins, which I very much enjoyed seeing.

Ms. Mattia kindly copied an interesting article for us to take home which I look forward to reading called "Secret Arts: Elizabethan Miniatures and Sonnets" by Patricia Fumerton. I'm also purchasing the above mentioned museum's book on this wonderful collection as a memento of my visit and to read more about the fine portraits we saw.




13 comments:

Altoon Sultan said...

What a wonderful post. I can feel your excitement in seeing these beautiful works.

Tatiana Myers said...

Thank You, Mona for sharing it with us!

Kathleen Coy said...

How wonderful! I bet you were like a kid in a candy store... :-)

Miniature Art by Karen Hull said...

Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful artworks with us Mona - they certainly are inspirational!!!!

artbyakiko said...

I'm glad to hear that you had a wonderful time enjoying those amazing miniatures. Thanks for sharing them.
Last month, I saw a collection of miniature eye paintings for the first time at Philadelphia Museum of Art. They were so beautiful, but I still like your Kimberly's Eye brooch best.

Bill's Blog said...

Hi Mona,
Really,really interesting blog, Mona. Isn't it wonderful to see so many of the most beautiful miniatures ever painted. I always get a thrill when I go to the V&A here in London. To answer your questions. I don't use a mask - I go round all the white areas. And Rolf prepared an impasto background and covered the board with green.

Wes and Rachelle Siegrist said...

We're all envious of you and Justine! There's nothing like seeing works of art in person - especially miniatures! You're going to enjoy having a copy of the book. I have a copy and have read it several times. The only drawback is many of the miniatures in the book are reproduced larger than life. It's nice for seeing the details but misleading for grasping the scale.

Tracy Hall said...

So much fun Mona, it really must have been wonderful to get that opportunity. Thanks so much for telling us all about it!

Barbara A. Freeman said...

Thanks so much for sharing your Miniature Masterpieces at the Met visit, and with photos! How exciting seeing them in person and under the magnifier!

Mona said...

We were definitely like kids in a candy shop, yes, and glad to be able to share the experience we had this time with a few pictures.

Bill, I may have already told you this, but my very first introduction to miniatures was during a visit I made to England in 1996 when I went to the miniature room at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I still get inspired just thinking about what I saw in there, and I got a kick out of how there was a person stationed by the door solely for the purpose of turning the lights in the room on when someone is viewing the miniatures and turning them off when they stop looking (to preserve the colors from fading).

DEB said...

What a wonderful visit! I am not as well versed in the history of miniatures, so I wouldn't have known all the artists' names, but just experiencing all of those amazing works...I'd have been on cloud 9 too! I wonder if you'd ever be invited to be the caretaker of them at the museum!

Carol Andre' said...

Lucky you!!! Thanks so for posting this. Oh, to have been a "mouse in your pocket"! I especially adore Mrs. Rufus Prime - what a gorgeous piece. It must have been breath-taking if it looks this good in a photo!

Mary McAndrew said...

This must have been so exciting for you and how inspiring! Thanks so much for sharing the experience and photos, it's always neat to see the 'behind the scenes' stuff.