From the 16th Century through to the mid-19th Century, portrait miniatures were symbols of love and devotion. People eagerly wore them as pendants around their necks, or imbedded in bracelets – and even worn as ornamental brooches. Napoleon never left home without his portrait miniature of Josephine; Marie-Antoinette’s first glimpse of the future Louis XVI was a portrait miniature of the Dauphin – a flattering portrayal as a svelte young man, and not the stout boy he really was; and in Verdi’s La Traviata, as Violetta dies of tuberculosis, she gives Alfredo her young lover, a miniature with her image to remember their doomed affair. Nowadays discerning collectors seek these diminutive pedigree keepsakes. Connoisseur Thierry Jaegy – Jaegy-Theoleyre Gallery – shares his expertise, love and enthusiasm for Portrait Miniatures.(Above image: Portrait of a Lady by François Dumont which is in the Tansey Foundation Collection in Celle, Germany. Photo courtesy of Thierry Jaegy with kind permission of the Tansey Foundation)
How did you become inspired and excited about Portrait Miniatures? TJ: I discovered portrait miniatures when I was twenty years old in a “brocante” (antique show) in the small village of Sancerre in the Loire Valley. It was a miniature signed by Carteaux P.D.R (peintre du Roi – painter to the king), lost and forgotten on a dusty shelf. I was fascinated by the life in this very small portrait. The sitter seems to be waiting for me for many centuries, protected under this small fragile glass, ignored by everyone. How did this piece of art come from Versailles to be here, in the countryside, abandoned? In fact, the art of portrait miniatures is totally forgotten by French people; it’s different in England. I have great pleasure to participate with this art: to discover, reveal them, and share them. Laurent and I became passionate collectors during the past twenty years, and we made this passion our life ten years ago by starting the very first web gallery dedicated exclusively to this Art: The Gallery jaegy-theoleyre.fr
What Portrait Miniaturists do you believe are the most significant from the 18th and 19th Centuries? It is very difficult to choose when there were so many great artists everywhere in Europe. Difficult but not too much…as one of them touches my heart above all: this artist is Francois Dumont (Top image). Even if he is not regular in the quality of portraits, he made (but he painted so many that I pardon him), he created real masterpieces with an inimitable look that Dumont gives to his sitters eyes. A seduction, a dialogue between the portraiture and the portraitist, with a particular charm that touches me so much. In French, we have an expression about this way to look with seduction in the eyes: to have a “oeil de velours” (velvet eyes). Dumont was the only one to give his models this “oeil de velours” – an additional feeling of happiness.
Twenty-five years ago, there were International sales of Portrait Miniatures. Now there are virtually none. What has happened to the market? The age of collectors has changed: their buying habits changed too. The sales you talk about were only two times per year. Nowadays, nobody wants to wait so long for pleasure. With the Internet, collectors how have the possibility to access what they like immediately, when they want, night and day. This is the role of web galleries like e-commerce in general.
Are SnapChat and Instagram the 21st Century version of Portrait Miniatures? I don’t think so. Instagram, Snapchat…this is instantaneously forgotten as soon as it is published…it’s so far from the art of Portrait Miniatures. In our modern life, what has replaced Portrait Miniatures – for me – is our smartphones! We keep our pictures inside it, the small portraits of the ones we love, keep them in our pockets, to see them as soon as we need to – and this is exactly the role that Portrait Miniatures had.
Could you please give a brief profile of the Portrait Miniature collector? In my opinion, the time when collecting portrait miniatures was reserved for a small select group of millionaires is finished. Now it appears that collectors are younger, curious and connected…Most often rich, but not exclusively. If the last generation bought star artists like Hall, Sicardy, Smart and Isabey…the new generation discovered that we can find true little masterpieces in unsigned portrait miniatures, or in pieces signed by less famous artists. But there are also investors who discovered this precious art; easy to preserve and to travel with, whose rating grows. www.jaegy-theoleyre.fr JG