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Miniature Portraits Offer A Glimpse Into Yesterday

The annual Oglebay Institute Antique Show and Sale is next weekend, April 5 – 7 at Oglebay Park’s Wilson Lodge. It opens with a 7-10 p.m. preview party that includes a Dessert with Antiques portion of the evening on Friday, April 5 that’s open to the public. Anyone looking for a first peek at the treasures, along with tasty treats to nibble and a chance to support our local museums, should plan now on being there. (I work this event, by the way.)

There will be a wide variety of quality antiques displayed at the show so you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect collectible to enjoy or give as a gift.

One of the loveliest little treasures that I purchased at one of the previous antiques shows is the miniature shown in today’s column. It is framed in a tortoise shell hard plastic that looks like Bakelite.

Miniature artworks are one of the first antiques that I learned to appreciate since my mother collected these elegant little paintings when I was a child.

These small portraits of famous historical figures seem to have stories to tell and they fascinated me because of the detail and subject matter. For example, my mother had one that depicted Marie Antoinette, one of my favorite tragic figures. She was dressed as a milkmaid.

In fact, the ill-fated queen is one of the most popular subjects found on miniatures, which can be found as small paintings to display on a dresser or wall, or as distinctive jewelry in the form of a pin or pendant.

Many of the best quality miniatures sell for excellent prices at auction. The signature is what makes the best examples so valuable. For example, any signed Francois Dumont, ranks high internationally.

According to the history of Marie Antoinette’s court, this particular miniaturist was one of her favorite painters. A record setting miniature dating to 1790, just one year before the queen and her king Louis XVI were arrested while trying to escape France, sold for $101,635 at a 2009 auction at Christie’s.

Several famous miniatures show depictions of Marie Antoinette playing milkmaid. With soft tones and the delicate canvas of ivory, these tiny paintings make for an elegant reminder of drama long ago.

Painted by artists using magnifying glasses and painstaking details, these small works of art are amazing to see. In today’s hurry-up world they are a great example of how former artists and craftsmen struggled with their craft and took their time to perfect the smallest details.

Early American portraits were often done in miniature, too. Examples of Federal style of dress can be found on many miniature subjects and these are eagerly collected by antique lovers. Showing men with high cut coats and cravats, these Federal style of miniatures were often commissioned by married couples of the upper class.

Napoleon Bonaparte and his family also were popular subjects of miniatures. Other miniatures show British personalities like Queen Victoria.

Some miniatures were done on porcelain or paper, though ivory seems to have been the most popular material used for these tiny images. The value of these paintings, varies according to condition and quality of materials used.

Additionally, consideration is given to the particular subject shown and artist responsible for the work. Signatures, condition and engravings increase the value.

But whether you find a miniature with a unique history, or you simply enjoy the unknown stories behind them, miniatures are elegant little works of art that blend well with traditional and Federal style decorating themes.

Make sure you visit our annual Antiques Show and Sale next weekend and find a treasure of your own. Besides the Friday preview hours, the show continues from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at zambitomaureen@ hotmail.com or by writing in care of this newspaper.

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