Location: Nelson-Atkins Building, Gallery P27
Formal portraits have been commissioned from artists for centuries, allowing intimate images of loved ones to be kept close. Small-scale paintings in the form of miniatures not only depict the sitters as attractive and well-dressed, but also show the most current fashions in hairstyles and clothing.
Men wear their best jackets, waistcoats and neck cloths, while women display their finest dresses and latest hairstyles. Portrait miniatures, like contemporary prints and paintings, document changes in male and female fashion.
Whether a portrait is painted or captured with a camera, the sitter has most likely made an effort to look as attractive and well-dressed as possible. Sitters are depicted with powdered wigs, brightly colored clothing, or luxurious embellishments such as gold embroidery or lace.
Most portrait miniatures depicted family members or close relations; the genre, however, also captured notable personages such as King George IV. Whether showing ordinary citizens or cardinals and kings, portrait miniatures provide an important record of 17th–19th dress.
Image: George Smithson, English, act. 1758–1795. Portrait of A. Bowen, Esq., 1758. Watercolor on ivory, 2 ½ x 2 in. (6.4 x 5.1 cm) Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John W. Starr and the Starr Foundation, Inc.