Portraits bind families together creating visual mementoes. Sometimes they also connect families through the artistic practice itself. This installation features both types of portrait miniatures!
In eighteenth-century Europe and America, it was a portrait painting age. Formerly associated with royalty and heads of state, by the mid-1700s, everyone wanted their portrait painted. Scores of artists were there to answer the call, painting mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, and cousins. These keepsakes that once adorned the family walls, or as in the case with portrait miniatures, were often worn as jewelry, or close to the body, served as visual reminders connecting family history. This installation features several portraits of siblings, such as Richard Grosvenor and his sister, Maria Deborah Grosvenor, painted in 1770 by Samuel Cotes (1733-1818), himself part of an artistic family. Over time, many family miniatures were dispersed among relatives or sold off thus breaking family ties. Although no longer owned by the sitters’ descendants, these portraits have miraculously remained together over two-hundred and fifty years later.
Family portraiture takes on a different meaning on the other side of the case, as the profession of artist often extended to multiple individuals within the same household. With no professional school to learn the art of miniature painting, the tradition and knowledge of this practice frequently passed from one generation to the next. One spectacular example of this includes America’s first well-known family of artists, the Peales. This installation features examples by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), as well as portraits by his brother James Peale, Sr. (1749-1831), and niece Anna Claypoole Peale (1791–1878), as well as a selection of their near 18th century/early 19th century English and European contemporaries.
The Starr Collection of Miniatures in the Bloch Galleries
Presented to the Nelson-Atkins by Mr. and Mrs. John W. Starr in two major gifts from 1958 and 1965, and numerous additional gifts through the years, the Starr Collection of Miniatures illustrates the history of European portrait miniatures through more than 250 objects. The exhibition of portrait miniatures in Gallery P24 changes every twelve months to highlight the variety of the collection and to limit exposure of the light-sensitive pigments.
Organized by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
For groups interested in learning more about the artwork on view in this exhibition, please request a European Art Collection tour and request in the notes that the exhibition be included as part of the tour.