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Barber Institute of Fine Arts presents Close to the Heart Portrait Miniatures from UK Collections

Barber Institute of Fine Arts presents Close to the Heart 17th- to 19th-century Portrait Miniatures from UK Collections, an exhibition on view through 5 May 2013.

Barber Institute of Fine Arts

Close to the Heart features some 50 dazzling miniatures, ranging in date from around 1600 to 1850, from the Daphne Foskett Collection and a second, anonymous collection well known to experts. It includes stunning examples by leading names in the field such as Peter Oliver, George Engleheart, Richard Cosway, John Smart and Sir William Ross and Richard Crosse. The exhibition, supported by auction house Bonhams, forms part of the year-long celebratory program marking the 80th anniversary of the foundation of the Barber, the art gallery and original concert hall for the University of Birmingham.

One of the highlights of the show is a tiny, oval, sepia portrait – barely 1cm high – of 18th-century actor, playwright and impresario David Garrick – set in what is said to have been one of the actor’s favorite rings. After his death in 1779, Garrick’s wife, the German singer Eva Marie Viegel, had the portrait (painted by an unknown artist) and set in the ring. The item remained in Garrick’s family until it was acquired in 1895 for the private collection in which it remains today.

Another gem is Richard Crosse’s tender and unusual watercolor on ivory, Portrait of Two Boys – thought to be a self-portrait with a brother – of 1759. Crosse was born a deaf-mute, and for many years relied on his older brother, James, to communicate with clients. It is believed that either James or a younger brother, Edward, is depicted here with Crosse.

Portrait miniatures were given as presents to close friends and family, exchanged during courtship and used to commemorate important events, such as an engagement, marriage or a long separation. They were often set in a gold pendant locket or frame, and worn on a chain or as a brooch pinned to the chest – symbolically close to the heart – or hanging from the waist. The reverse might feature the sitter’s initials in seed pearls or a lock of their hair arranged in a fancy design. If not worn, miniatures were kept in leather cases and stored in drawers. Larger ‘cabinet’ miniatures, sometimes with biblical or other ‘history’ subjects, were hung on walls like small-scale paintings.

Close to the Heart includes works ranging from the first few decades of the 17th century, by which time the form was well established, through its golden age from around 1760, when exhibiting societies were established, to later examples from t he 1840s – just before the emergence of photography, which all but killed off the painted portrait miniature. The display also includes a handful of beautiful and fascinating foreign examples.

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts
University of Birmingham
B15 2TS
0121 414 7333

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