A Morning at the Milwaukee Art Museum

 Victoria here, welcoming you to the Milwaukee Art Museum, one of my favorite hang-outs. In fact, I used to work here writing grant proposals for exhibitions and conservation projects. The building is the iconic winged structure on the shore of Lake Michigan designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, opened in 2001 as the second major addition to the original building by Eero Saarinen (1910–1961), a Finnish-American architect.

One of the current exhibitions on view at the MAM is Intimate Images of Love and Loss: Portrait Miniatures which continues through October 31, 2010. The Koss Gallery is filled with miniatures by British, American, French, Austrian and Argentinian artists and photographers.  Click here for more information.

One of my favorites is this portrait, A Young Girl, with her hair unbound and blowing in the wind.  It was painted by John Barry (British, active 1784–1827) ca. 1790. The gift of Richard and Erna Flagg, it is part of the museum’s permanent collection.  Other examples come from the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, the Charles Allis Art Museum and other local collectors, but cannot be displayed here under the terms of the loans. Sorry, but that is standard operating procedure for borrowed works in an exhibition.

Text panels explain how the works were created, usually painted on thin slices of ivory as illustrated on the left. Because of the nature of the surface, the painting was done with tiny brushstrokes or dots, which can be seen in the gallery in the enlarged photos, right of the slice.

Other text panels show uses of the miniatures for jewelry or bibelots. To the right, Queen Elizabeth II wears two portrait miniatures of her predecessors on her shoulder.

This tiny picture was taken from a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) of Lady Smith and her Children, miniaturized and handsomely framed. Though is it a bit too large to be worn, it could easily have been carried on travels.

This lovely example is by celebrated miniaturist George Engleheart (1750-1829), Woman in a Hat, c. 1790. It is a recent addition to the museum’s collections. Engleheart was a miniature painter to George III and finished at least 25 portraits of the king himself as well as many others.

Here is the MAM’s official photo of the miniature.

George Engleheart, Woman in a Hat, ca. 1790. Gift of Edith Maclay in memory of Frederick H. von Schleinitz.
Photo by John R. Glembin

One of the special events planned during the exhibition was a discussion of Jane Austen’s Persuasion led by Museum Educator Amy Kirschke, at the right of the picture.  Amy leads a monthly book salon at the museum with each book choice related to a current MAM exhibition. She looked to Jane Austen and her oft-quoted statement about her work being like a fine brush on a tiny piece of ivory.

In case you had forgotten (as I had), in Persuasion, Captain Harville has brought to Bath a miniature of Captain Benwick to have it reset as a gift from Benwick to his new fiancee Louisa Musgrove, though it had originally been painted for his late love, Fanny Harville.  This sparks a discussion between Capt. Harville and Anne about the nature of love and fidelity, overheard by Captain Wentworth.  Anne’s expressions further motivate him to propose again to her.  How clever of Ms. Kirschke to find such a perfect example of a miniature in literature.

I was reminded of my recent visit to the Wallace Collection in London where I saw the famous portrait of Perdita, Mrs. Robinson, in which she holds a miniature of the Prince of Wales, her former lover.

Miniatures are ever so fascinating and this exhibition with its wide selection of examples is well worth seeing.

2 thoughts on “A Morning at the Milwaukee Art Museum”

  1. What a fabulous exhibit and blogpost. I have always been fascinated by miniatures. I couldn't draw a portrait of someone on a barn wall and yet these jewels are painted in such detail on such a tiny space. Arts that require that sort of patience and attention to detail are a dying breed.

Leave a Reply