Oval Gold Pendant surrounded by seed pearls.ca 1830

The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection 

The exhibition opens May 15, 2014, and runs through August 24, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts  Click here for their website.

Gold Oval brooch and pendant surrounded by split pearls, ca. 1835-40


Here at Number One London, we have a close and affectionate feeling for this wonderful and unique exhibition.  Our frequent guest blogger Jo Manning wrote  some very special stories for the catalogue.
Here is Jo’s blog about the original opening at the Birmingham Museum of Art in March, 2012.

Bracelet surmounted with miniature in gold surround with drop pearl;
 plaited hairwork on reverse; gray right eye. n.d.
Victoria had a delightful meeting with Nan Skier at the original venue, the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama visited in April, 2012. You can read an account of that meeting here.

Jo attended the opening at the Look of Love Exhibitions’ second venue in Georgia, and wrote about it here.

Rose gold octagonal pendant surrounded by blue enamel with half pearls. Brown left eye.

The Look of Love exhibition was also shown at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. September 21, 2013 – January 5, 2044. Click here for more information.

Gold oval brooch surrounded by foil-backed red pastes, ca. 1790. Blue left eye
surrounded by curls. Attributed to Richard Cosway.

Here’s hoping you have had an opportunity to see this outstanding collections of treasures!

All photos, ©Birmingham Museum of Art, Sean Pathasema, photographer

Another 'Look of Love"

Victoria here, having recently toured the exhibit “The Look of Love” at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama (on my way home from a winter in Florida near Kristine and Jo).

This was my first ever visit to Birmingham and thus my first taste of the delicious museum of art, which we began with luncheon at Oscar’s Restaurant (delicious, indeed!) before approaching our target: The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection.

The museum was filled with children. probably school tours, and they seemed particularly attracted to the museum shop, like all kids everywhere, seeking a memento of their visit.

I had read about the exhibition on line in articles published all over (see Jo Manning’s piece here), and in the catalogue, which absorbed my attention cover to cover.  Even if you are not fortunate enough to make your way to Birmingham before June 10, this catalogue will give you an excellent view of all the pieces accompanied by several scholarly articles and Jo Manning’s delightful fictional vignettes.

Nan Skier and Victoria at the exhibition

I was fortunate to be introduced on-line (by Jo Manning) to Nan Skier, and we met in person at the exhibition.  We had an enlightening chat about the unique collection she and her husband, Dr. David Skier, have amassed.  To hear her tell how they got started, listen to this interview via Skype with Polish television.

The very tiny objects, from as small as less than half a square inch to a wallet containing  both a lover’s eye and miniature of a hand, and a tea cup decorated with an eye, are exhibited in a darkened room in handsome cases and vitrines under pinpoints of light. Thus my pictures are both dark and a little blurry since they are enlarged quite a bit.  The better pictures here are the official pictures by the professional photographer Sean Pathashema.

 Above is one of the cases on which the Lover’s Eyes are displayed with descriptions below. Though it might be hard to photograph, the layout is very effective in presenting the delicate objects in the best possible manner.
Gold oval pendant surrounded by seed pearls, ca. 1830. Brown right eye with clouds
1 7/8 (with hanger) x 1 3/8 x 1/4 in.

gold teardrop-shaped brooch surrounded by split pearls, ca. 1790; Blue right eye.
 3/4  x  1 1/4  x  1/4 in.
The Lover’s Eyes in the Skier Collection are all similar — yet no two are alike. Most of them are worn as jewelry — rings, pendants, bracelets, e.g.
Bracelet surmounted with miniature in gold surround with drop pearl;
Plaited hairwork on reverse;
 Restrung with four strands of cultured pearls; Gray right eye.
 1 5/8 x 2 x 1/4 in. (surround only)
Many are set with precious stones: there are examples of pearls, diamonds, garnets, coral and turquoise, among others. 
Yellow gold brooch with border of thirty-two natural oriental half pearls in a floral motif
with eight small turquoise stones;
oval locket back with woven brown hair under glass, c. 1820
brown right eye; 1 x 1 1/8 x 1/4 in.
Rose gold oval brooch surrounded by double asymmetrical rows of seed pearls;
 suggestion of cloud border; convex backing with Prince of Wales hair plumes;
 brown right eye; 1 x 1 1/4 x 1/4 in.
Heart shaped gold ring with Hessonite garnet surround
crowned with a flower and ribbon motif, c. 1790. Blue right eye.
 on reverse of ivory lozenge is a sepia and embroidered hairwork image depicting interlocking hearts
 in front of an oak.  15/16 x 5/8 x 7/8 in.
Every one of these objects must have a story — of love or of loss.  But few can be identified by either sitter or artist.  History has made them unknown, and this gives a particularly poignant and mysterious twist to the exhibition. In a brilliant move, however, the catalogue contains several fictional stories — what MIGHT have been.  Jo Manning is the author and her imagination took wing. Highly recommended.
So-called “Memory Box” made of embossed and painted paper
containing eye miniature, c. 1830. Brown left eye.
1 1/8 x 1 1/4 x 5/8 in.
A patch box, a stick pin, the wallet, and the teacup — what many uses have been found for the lover’s eyes.  Nan and I discussed the fact that many of the eyes portrayed are from the left side, and we speculated on how such a choice could be made — by the artist, the sitter or the person who made the commission?

Rose gold pendant surrounded by blue enamel with half pearls.
 Brown left eye. 1 x 11/16 x 1.8 in.

Richard Cosway, self-portrait (1742-1821) c. 1790
National Portrait Gallery, London

It amused me to note that one of the few lover’s eyes that an be identified by its artist is by Richard Cosway (1742-1821) greatly celebrated in his day as a painter and a close friend of the Prince Regent, later George IV.  And yet, this particular piece is one of very few that is not bejeweled, but instead decorated with paste (fake) red stones. Rather ironic, I thought.

Gold oval brooch surrounded by foil-backed red pastes, c. 1790. Blue left eye surrounded by curls
Attributed to Richard Cosway

Many thanks to Nan Skier for gracious hospitality and fascinating discussion.

The Look of Love is a most interesting and beautiful exhibition.  You have a month, until June 10, 2012, to make it to Birmingham. Hurry!
 I will report on other treasures in the Birmingham Museum of Art shortly.

A Look at The Look of Love

 A guest blog by Jo Manning

Jo Manning (with Lily)

The LOOK OF LOVE exhibit has opened in Birmingham, Alabama, at the Birmingham Museum of Art.  I was fortunate enough to be there for the opening and the first couple of days of the show, which runs until the end of June.  For museum information, click here.

Dr David  and Nan Skier
Before discussing this spectacular exhibit – the first of its kind in the world – and one that, with its accompanying catalog, sets the standard for research on this unique portrait miniature-cum-jewelry that has been, up until now, so little known in either the art or jewelry worlds, some backstory…
I often tell people that one never knows, after one’s book is published and sent out into the marketplace, who will see it, who will be affected by it, and what repercussions it will generate.  My biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, a notorious courtesan of the late 18th-early 19th centuries, was sold in bookstores and museum gift shops. 

At one of the latter, the Bass Museum of Art’s gift shop in Miami Beach, Florida, it was seen by Dr David Skier, an eye surgeon from Birmingham, who thought his wife would enjoy it. One of the things he noticed in the book was a sidebar on Lover’s Eyes — eye miniatures – with a photo of a ring in the “collection of the author”.

This was of great interest to Dr Skier because he and his wife Nan had quietly been collecting these beautiful objects for many years and had accumulated some 70+ of them. (They now own 100+ of these miniatures.)  Assuming that I had a collection of these objects, they wrote to my publisher Simon & Schuster, asking for my contact information.  The publisher referred them to my agent, Jenny Bent of the Bent Agency, and she contacted me.  I responded promptly with the news that, no, I owned just the one ring, and that I’d become interested in them after seeing the eye miniatures in the collection of my writing colleague Candice Hern, who owned several lovely brooches.  I was also entranced by the story of how they came about and their subsequent history.
The Skiers became friends, and when I was asked to contribute to the catalog for an exhibition of their collection called The Look of Love, I said I would be happy to do so, but that I did not in any way consider myself an expert on the subject.  No, they said, we’d like you to write some stories, vignettes, inspired by the eyes in their collection.  I thought this was a brilliant idea, frankly, because each of the eyes had a story – an unknown story for the most part, to be sure, as sitters and artists were mostly unidentified – and the eyes do speak to the viewer.  I gave my imagination full rein and wrote five stories for their consideration.  To my knowledge, this is another first; I know of no fiction in the catalogs of art shows. Essays on the art and history, yes, those are standard, but bits of fiction…nope!
 I have to confess that the stories came very easily, which does not always happen to a writer.  But the eyes drew me in, and I chose the most eloquent, in my opinion, and wrote away.  My goal was to illuminate how these objects of love and affection came about, what they meant in a society with mores quite unlike our own, who the artists might be and why they painted them, what the symbolism involved meant to people in that era, and, yes, the aura they held of clandestine love tokens was very appealing to me, as a writer of historical romance.
The stories are:  “Pippa and William”; “Ursula Engleheart Prepares Tea For Her Artist Husband George…”; “I Mourn Your Loss, My Beloved…”; “My Mother, Mariah Norcross”; and “The Grey Eye in Great-Aunt Lavinia’s Jewelry Box”.
 Pippa and William are star-crossed lovers (not to be confused with Pippa Middleton and Prince William J) who meet as children, fall in love, but cannot marry because of dynastic “rules” governing marriage; Ursula Engleheart is the story of a prolific painter of miniatures (an estimated 5,000 of them in his lifetime) who paints eyes for clandestine lovers but doesn’t sign them to avoid trouble with his patrons, their parents; I Mourn Your Loss tells a sad tale of two of the many young men who perished in the Napoleonic Wars and how all that remains of one of them is the lover’s eye he gave to his fiancée; My Mother, Mariah Norcross is another bereavement story that also illustrates the perils of epidemics in that Georgian era and its horrific costs to families; and, finally, the last story, of what was found in Great-Aunt Lavinia’s Jewelry Box by careless heirs, speculates on the possible unfortunate fate of many an eye miniature.
The exhibition, and the beautifully illustrated 208 page catalog – a proper coffee-table book! – have each garnered wonderful publicity.  The catalog will probably become a collector’s item as well as an important research source on the subject of eye miniatures; the essays by Dr. Graham Boettcher, the curator, and Elle Shushan, a dealer in portrait miniatures, are outstanding, detailed, and most readable.
Graham Boettcher
Elle Shushan
The exhibit is exquisite, mounted with extreme delicacy and care by the professionals at the Birmingham Museum of Art, and the oohs and ahhs of those visiting the jewel of a room in which it is housed brings joy to everyone who’s been involved in its creation and implementation, but most of all to Nan and Dr David Skier, who collected these gorgeous pieces that combine art/history/and jewelry in such a unique manner. Plans are underway to bring the exhibit to other cities; the catalog can be ordered through Amazon, where it has been Number One in its category – Art  and Antiques – for weeks. It can also be ordered from the English publisher
D Giles Ltd here.
Nan Skier talks about the collection here. Scroll down half a page for the presentation.

There are special events surrounding the Look of Love which can be found on the museum’s web site  here.

The coverage has been overwhelming: Take a look at the Vanity Fair web article, for example, here.
A beautiful article appears in Antiques & Fine Arts which requires an online FREE registration.  Here is the online site:  http://www.antiquesandfineart.com/
Many other articles area available on the internet and through the museum’s website.
A postscript:  One of the several delightful people I met – including dealers/art consultants/appraisers Reagan Upshaw, Michael Quick, and Sonja Weber (the book is dedicated to her late husband Barry Weber, who often appeared on Antiques Roadshow) — was Thomas Sully, a painter and direct descendant of the English-born American painter of the same name.

Tom Sully self-portrait miniature

Tom Sully paints portrait miniatures, amongst other painting genres and has lately begun to do eye miniatures. I asked him, “How do you do this? Isn’t elephant ivory  [which was used for most Georgian eye miniatures] endangered?”  He replied that the Russians are selling woolly mammoth – yes! woolly mammoth! – ivory and that is what he is using. Not endangered. Extinct. But not endangered.&
I saw some samples of his work and it is very fine, indeed.  Check him out   here.


And do consider commissioning a lover’s eye – or two – for yourself.

Your Lover's Eye

Through artist Victoria Carlin, the tradition of painting lover’s eyes survives in the 21st century. Recently, guest blogger Jo Manning did a series of posts on lover’s eyes for us and explained their history and the story behind these cherished keepsakes. Today, the cost of purchasing these antique eyes is astronomical, but through Victoria’s brush, you can now have a portrait done of your own, or your lover’s, eye at an affordable price, thus the tradition endures.

Victoria studied at the School for Visual Arts and the Student’s Art League of New York. Additionally, she studied at Jerusalem’s Betzalel Academy of Art. Victoria  eads painting workshops in Italy, England, Canada and the United States. Victoria’s talents and reputation as a serious fine artist has brought her numerous and prestigious commissions for portraits of both private and public figures. Victoria’s work hangs locally as well as internationally in Israel, Ireland and Ecuador.

After much success in the world of fine art, Victoria has now followed her passion – blending her superb talent with a rich heritage of romanticism – making her exquisite pieces available to everyone, as the perfect gift for that special loved one.

As Victoria recently explained –

“I first became aware of lover’s eye when I saw one in either France or England. I fell instantly in love. I have worked as a commissioned portrait artist for the past 17 years. My goal as a fine artist is to communicate on a two dimensional canvas not only how that person looks, but who they are, the visual essence of the person. I found that if one were able to paint the feeling of the eyes in the portrait, then the commission was a success… that the soul, that life spark was in the painting of the eye.
“In today’s modern world, people no longer commission an artist to paint a portrait of their love ones. Once one is exposed to the world of honoring, remembering and showing love through portraiture, most people would love to have one. Sadly for many the cost is beyond their budget.

“This made me realize that a relatively small amount of money, which would otherwise be spent on gifts such as flowers, lingerie or jewelery, one could commission an artist create a fine art painting of that person’s eye – a lover’s eye.”
Victoria knows how much a lover’s eye can mean to someone as a momento because she has a very special story of her own regarding these keepsakes –

“My fiance and I had been high school sweethearts who parted and went on to create big lives with children and careers. Then, the stars re-aligned and we discovered that we were both single again. I had been dating someone else and was about to send him my own lover’s eye when Ron stepped back into my life and I just knew then that the other guy was not meant to receive this keepsake. It became very personal, as though I were sending a part of me. . . Ron was so touched by my lover’s eye its now on his desk front center and is, he says, one of his most precious things.”
Victoria has been commissioned to paint several children’s eyes and her eyes have become popular as wedding day gifts. You can find more examples of Victoria’s work and read more about her at her website, My Lover’s Eye.

A Look at Lover's Eyes by Guest Blogger Jo Manning – Part Two

Copyright The Art of Mourning

Although the craze for Lover’s Eyes – and it was a craze, thanks to the Prince Regent, later King George IV, who was said to have exchanged lovers’ eyes with his putative wife, Maria Fitzherbert and perhaps with his lover, Mary Robinson (the actress known as Perdita) – flourished for only a short time, his niece Queen Victoria years later was also said to be fond of them and gave them as gifts. To quote Candice Hern, a fellow writer of historical romance novels, “even though the notion of eye brooches was by that time very old-fashioned.”

Ah, but in their day…! Christopher Stocks, writing in the Patek Philippe Magazine last year, noted:
“The combination of royalty and society was as potent then as it is today, and before long the fashion for eye miniatures spread through European high society and as far as Russia and the U.S.”

I first became aware of eye miniatures when I sat in on a presentation given by Candice Hern, as a matter of fact. This was some years ago at a Romance Writers of America conference. Candice’s very fine website shows the eyes in her collection:

Copyright Candice Hern

The examples displayed are prime, and are indeed lovely. Hers are all set into brooches; two show blue-eyed women; two are brown-eyed men. Who they are, again, is not known, and neither are the artists who painted them nor for whom they were intended, though we do have clues that several – and maybe a lot more than several – were painted by the prolific and noted miniaturists Richard Cosway and George Engleheart. (Ozias Humphry is said to have painted a few, also.)

Though a number of miniatures bearing the signature of Cosway are suspected not to be his, Engleheart did make a practice in his later years of initialing or signing his name to his work and these are considered genuine, not fakes. (These jottings are not easy to see unless the eye miniature is removed from its setting.)

Speaking of fakes, they are, alas, proliferating in this age of photo-shopping and cropping and Internet image borrowing. They can, however, be distinguished easily from the real thing upon close inspection owing to the presence of pixels rather than brushstrokes. See this very good article by the late Barry Weber, an expert in the field who often appeared on PBS’s Antiques Road Show.

Weber went on to say that “murky colors that use dark sepia tones” should make one wary, as these colors may be “a heavy-handed effort to falsify age.” He also cautioned, “an antique frame doesn’t add authenticity to the painting.” Camilla Lombardi, director of the portrait miniatures department at Bonham’s in London has been seeing an increasing number of fakes as the real thing becomes rarer, particularly noting caution if a nose, or part of a nose, appears in an eye miniature. She says that in genuine eye miniatures there should be “no real sign of the nose where you would expect it, whereas in a cut-down eye miniature you would see the line of the nose and shadow where the corner of the eye meets the bridge of the nose.”

Copyright PBS

What George Williamson had to say in The Art of the Miniature Painter about the care of miniature portraits would apply as well to the much tinier lover’s eyes:

“Miniatures should not be exposed to a strong light… Violent changes of temperature are to be avoided, and should the ivory become too dry it may crack… Lockets and pendants containing miniatures should not be worn at dances, or on any occasion where the wearer is liable to become overheated, as acid condensation takes place inside the glass which may ruin the painting.”

Ather problem – which perhaps accounts for the rarity of eye miniatures set into rings rather than brooches, pendants, or cases – is that water could get under the glass protecting the miniature and wash away the watercolors. Washing hands was death to a lover’s eye set into a ring.

Copyright parisatelier.blogspot.com

And what are these eye miniatures, these oh-so-romantic lover’s eyes, worth in today’s antique jewelry market? Barry Weber noted, “Few pieces cost less than $1,000.” He added, “American pieces are spectacularly rare,” mentioning “one jewel-encrusted example worth $20,000.” Christopher Stocks values unattributed pieces at $1,500, whilst attributed pieces could go as high as $7,500 each. In the 1950s, when no one wanted them, they could be gotten for next to nothing, out of favor and even considered “repulsive” – to quote the art critic David Piper in 1957 — as both jewelry and art.

The oft-cited reference – in Charles Dickens’ 1848 novel, Dombey and Son – reinforces Piper’s condemnation, with the dismissive description of the lover’s eye worn by the elderly spinster Miss Tox as “representing a fishy old eye…” How anyone could see these eyes in that way is just another example of how one person’s treasure can be considered another person’s trash, or, de gustibus non disputandum est.

Lover’s eyes are exquisite, in the opinion of many contemporary collectors, connoisseurs, and lovers of beautiful objects, and this exhibition will bring them to the forefront once again. It has only taken some 200 years! And, reader, do go through Great-Grandmother’s box of trinkets in the attic once more, for who knows what precious eyes may be lurking there, desperate for the light.

A 20th-century version of an eye miniature, from a Bronzino portrait; note the differences between this and a classic lover’s eye.