American School? (c.1850) – Profile Miniature Portrait of a Lady


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This striking portrait is painted in the distinctive en grisaille style, set against a darkly painted background, the profile is painted in shades of grey directly onto ivory. The absence of a signature leaves us guessing who the artist might be, although a card bearing the name Miss Norris was found inside the case. The case is a Union case made by the American Company S. Peck & Co., mid-19th century.

Ivory support: 3 1/8 x 2 1/2 in. (8 x 6.4 cm.)
Case: 3 3/4 x 3 5/16 in. (9.4 x 8.4 cm.)

This ivory painting has been registered. Submission ref: GLPFH7EE


The entire background in the portrait has been painted, so the present frame may not be the original. A watercolour painter by the name Miss Norris of 13 Little Chapel Street, Westminster, exhibited two works at the RBA, in 1841 and 1842, however they do not appear to have been miniatures. The only other artist whose surname is spelt Norriss, Miss Bess (Norriss with two ss’s) is later in date and her style does not match. This leaves the possibility of the miniature being by an American artist possibly from the 1850s.

In 1852, American photographic suppliers developed a plastic, or “ thermoplastic,” daguerreotype housing called a Union case. Plastic sheets were placed in moulds that produced elaborately decorated exteriors in relief. Although these cases were marketed mainly for daguerreotypes, they also framed some portrait miniatures, one such example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, is that of a baby attributed to Clarissa Peters Russell (1809-1854). The case was made by S. Peck and Company. By the end of the Civil War, photography in the United States had overtaken miniature painting as the popular choice for small portraits.


Unidentified / Unknown Artist