THE EXHIBITION OF MINIATURES AT THE BURLINGTON FINE ARTS CLUB.
FOR the time being, the gallery of the Burlington Fine Arts Club has become a very Paradise for the lover of miniatures, filled as it is with a collection of these which has surely never been equalled before. In the one large room we may see all the smaller cases of gems in the line of miniature paintings which have been lent, on occasions few and far between, to Art Exhibitions in the Metropolis and the pro- vinces. Here in a single chamber are they all together side by side, to be admired and compared; to be the fascinating subjects for examination in the different considerations of expression, personal decoration, and workmanship ; and even to remind one again of some old-fashioned story in which a miniature may have played a prominent part, bringing recollections of some touching episode which cannot but cause sympathetic sadness. What tales could not be told by these little, worn leather, or perchance chipped enamel cases, which hold in their hearts the likeness of some dainty maid or valiant youth ? Somehow, with all the brightness and the commonplace interest of the exhibition, it affords an uncommon occasion for a little sentimentalism.
In the way of personal decoration, this collection of minia- tures is a history in itself of the raiment worn by the classes who could afford to launch out into pictures of themselves. From the beginning of the sixteenth century, we have an almost continuous series of representations of the fashions in vogue in our own country for making dresses and arranging the hair, not to mention the many different kinds of jewellery and the manner in which they were worn, so neatly shown by some miniaturists. Besides these, there is the somewhat in- teresting study of different casts of countenance, which shows how surprisingly little the people of two or three hundred years ago differed in features from our companions of the present day. Somehow, there seems to be a probability that they would have had a less refined look—living simpler lives, and having a generally quieter existence than we have—but, strange to say, this is not the case, except with some of the high-born ladies of two centuries ago, who possess such work-a-day countenances that they seem uncommonly sur- prising when taken in comparison with the luxurious elegance of our distinguished dames in this year of grace 1889.
And now, leaving these various points of interest, we come to the important study of workmanship ; and it is true to say that exhaustive comparisons can be made at one's own con- venience in this Elysium of miniatures, while up to this time there has been many and many a long journey, and many a tedious interval between the chances of seeing the gems at all ; and then, when one has had a look at them, very likely they were in poor light and with inconvenient sur- roundings. We may be taken back to a far remoter period than the two or three centuries we have mentioned with regard to our compatriots, if we notice the tiny portraits from foreign lands. There is to be seen a sort of miniature picture, scratched out of a layer of gold between two round pieces of glass, which is said to be of ancient Roman workmanship. If this is really the fact, and it seems to be undoubted (the specimen having a pedigree that takes it back to its discovery in the ruins of Tivoli), the French artists of just a hundred years ago were exceedingly clever in their imitations of ancient Roman work, for anything more like than this said portrait is to a second-rate production of the "First Republican" date in Paris, it would be difficult to find. In the matter of physiognomy, the lady and the child in this work of art might be seen in
any country village to-day, if not in England, in la belle France. But as the collection consists of two thousand specimens, any
one consideration such as physiognomy would alone lead to too long a disquisition; and there are at least two other points of interest in each specimen of the miniaturist's art which should not be passed over. So, to be fair, no advantage must be given to any particular study, and all works should have their chances of notice. In all the hosts of miniatures gathered together here, only a comparatively insignificant number are more than six inches in height. Indeed, when a much larger surface than six inches by five is covered, a por- trait seems no longer to be a miniature. With the exception of paintings on vellum in books, works were uncommon before a hundred years ago which were painted on large surfaces in the finest strokes, by means of water-colours or enamel. It seems that these "large miniatures" of a late date materially helped towards the downfall of the miniaturist's art.
Her Majesty the Queen has lent a case (No. 12) to the Burlington Fine Arts Club, which contains, among other gems, two heads, in small oval frames (numbered 4 and 5), of the first Duke of Albemarle, and James, Duke of Monmouth, son of Charles II., which date back somewhat more than two hundred years. Although these works are considered miniatures, and are from the hand of that master miniaturist, Samuel Cooper, as a fact they are done in what is more than miniature painting, being full of strokes as bold and broad as one might see in good-sized oil-paintings. These are among the few specimens with wide surface employed earlier than a hundred years ago. It seems superfluous to remark that such as these could only have exalted the miniaturist's art, if they are held to be miniatures. It was those large, square, full- length portraits which worked such ruin. As a specimen, we may draw attention to Frame No. 31, Sir William Ross's picture of the Duchess of Somerset, with its gaudy colouring and inartistic pose, added to the hideous surroundings in the composition. It must be allowed that the workmanship is in many ways admirable; the velvet is exceedingly well done, and many good qualities are to be seen in the picture; but now, even if it were signed with a name that made it commercially worth a substantial sum (most slavish of all ideas!), who would tolerate such a portrait?
The artistic feeling of our companions of to-day seems so improved and refined compared with the public taste sixty years ago, when the art of miniature painting passed from us, that now the time has surely come for its renaissance. But it is to be remarked that there is only one way of painting miniatures,—that method which has been practised by the old masters. We must have a reappearance of the spirit of Cooper or of Cosway. For miniatures to be miniatures at all, they must be little, they must be fine, and their author must have studied well. Obviously, broadness of handling (especially if under that fine title a touch of carelessness is bidden) will never be successful in miniature work. But at the same time there must be an ease in the painting, and a clearness in the tints, which can leave no doubt as to the fineness in their workmanship. This very liberty, combined with the greatest delicacy, may be seen in Cosway's wonderful portraits. Perhaps it may be said that one should not mention this artist before all others, omitting earlier and indubitably successful painters "in little ;" but surely Cosway combines in his work the care and the freedom of all his forerunners. And if we are to have a revival of the art he practised, the man who arrives nearest to his standard will be the leader in his line.
But there are other means for producing tiny portraits, besides Cosway's chosen method, one being by the use of enamels, and we have in the Burlington Fine Arts Club Gallery a perfect specimen of this work in Frame No. 2, "The Countess of Southampton," from Jean Petitot's hand. There may be an opening for followers in this last-mentioned master's footsteps, although there can be but a small chance of our ever seeing another work to equal, much less to excel, the specimen in point. Pastels are applicable to very small portraits, perhaps not miniatures proper (see Case 38, No. 50, " Hofrath Bauer"), and Oil paint is exceedingly effective, proof of which statement may be seen in many a beautiful little picture in this collection. But of all these tiny oil portraits, by far the most remarkable, and the most con- vincing of its value, is an oval miniature attributed to Velasquez—Case 28, No. 20—a "Portrait of a Gentleman."
There is sufficient interest to be found just now at the Club Gallery to cause a desire to visit and revisit it, and having had on some occasions time to see the miniatures themselves, on another, one may give a look at the framing of many of them. The specimen numbered 39, in Case 29, an enamel of the greatest beauty by Petitot, of Catherine Henriette, Countess d'Olinne, is encircled by such a miracle of beauty in the way of a frame, of raised flowers enamelled, that it fairly astonishes one by its perfection of workmanship. Graceful and delicate in colouring, it is alone worth a long journey to see.
Those who are fortunate enough to have a chance of visiting the gathering of miniature paintings should by no means miss the following specimens, which, besides the few already mentioned, seem perhaps to be worthy of more particular atten- tion :—Frame 6, containing Sir Kenelm Digby and his wife. The former, a gem of the miniaturist's art, is by Isaac Oliver. It represents a face that has little of beauty in it; but that seems not to have mattered to the artist, judging from the care shown in his work. Case 17, No. 11.—Remarkable not so much for the workmanship, which is no doubt good, as for the quaint white frill round the lady's neck, making it look abnormally long. It is by Andrew Plimer. No. 29, in the same case, "Mrs. Maria Robinson," well known as " Perdita," by Ozias Humphrey. A beautifully painted little portrait, showing an intensely fascinating face. No. 35, in the same case, "Miss Siddons," daughter of the celebrated actress. A most uncommon-looking girl, with extraordinarily large dreamy eyes, the palest of complexions, light tinted yellow hair, and a white dress of the short-waisted_ kind common a hundred years ago. Cosway's method is to be seen in perfection in this portrait. Case 22, containing a collection of excellent works by George Engleheaxt, who came very close to Cosway in his work. Case 23, No. 1, the well- known portrait of Oliver Cromwell, by Cooper. As usual with this master's work, this is unfinished, but is, notwithstanding, a chef d'oeuvre. Case 14, Nos. 1, 2, and 3, charming miniatures by Engleheart again,—particularly No. 3, of a lady in a green hat; costume, expression, and colouring each appealing to the lover of a pleasant picture. Case 28, No. 8, "The First Earl of Southampton."—Hans Holbein painted this. It does his master-hand credit. Case 29, No. 6, also attributed to him, is not unworthy of him, if he did not do it. It is of Sir Nicholls Poyntz, whose face had an uncommonly remarkable outline from the side view. It is evidently carefully given by the painter of this portrait. From this to No. 9 in the same case, which is the excellent enamel of Edmund Waller, the poet, by Zincke. The original of this portrait must have been as handsome as Sir Nicholas Poyntz was the opposite. Case 29, No. 104, "Lady Anne Seymour," painted by Cosway. She must have been divinely fair, and the artist paid her a fitting compliment by painting her in his most perfect manner.
The reader will doubtless remark that most of those works to which attention is drawn are English. The- natural reason for this fact is that miniature painting has been carried to its greatest perfection in our country. If this is doubted, let the sceptic go to the gallery of the Burlington Fine Arts Club and prove it for himself.
When he leaves the wonderful series of portraits, having been persuaded by the beauty of English workmanship, let him join in the hope for a reappearance of what may fairly be termed our national art of Miniature Painting.