NOTE: We have learned our sitter's ID and a bit more about this item. See the final image for reference to a work so similar, it has to have been done by the same hand, wouldn't you say? We have no signature, but know you will see the exacting detail in both paintings, and at the least be interested in who this gentleman was. The present lot has been painted after a portrait miniature by Charles Fraser. Van Rensselaer served firstly as a member of the New York State Assembly (1789-1791) before becoming a member of the New York State Senate (1791-1796). As Lieutenant Governor of New York (1795-1801), Van Rensselaer was a leading candidate for Governor of New York.
It is amazing to me, time after time, to see the incredible detail the 17th through early 19th century portrait miniaturist artists were able to achieve in paintings so small. Portraits in miniature fascinate! They represent one of two categories, overall: 1. 18th to 19th century paintings done 'apres' or after the work of famous artists, small copies painted by other artists as souvenirs for the early Grand Tour traveler, and 2. 12th century through 19th century, the commissioned portrait of a person, living or dead, whose likeness will be painted by hand on a thin wafer (or perhaps a panel of wood or metal), as the perfect likeness of that person. Since the one of a kind true portraiture pre-dates early photography which was only invented c.1838, almost all portrait miniatures predate that era, and would be commissioned by the wealthy, positioned or titled. Napoleon was one of the earliest leaders who understood fully the power of the triumphant image as propaganda - essentially, advertising, and his reputation grew both from reality and from the proliferation of paintings and prints, large and small of his triumphs, spread far and near. Josephine was said to have traveled widely, as well, and handed out small paintings of herself and of Napoleon. But for most, these paintings will represent the single image of the person that survives through time, often without ID, without the memory or story of their life. We love all forms of the portraits and paintings in miniature, and will be listing a large collection of them here, the brief description of which will follow:
Definitely a French frame, and likely a French gentleman, earliest 1800s, middle-aged and showing mostly grey hair with a bit of dar remaining in his sideburns and eyebrows. Expressive face, beautifully captured eyes, pouted lower lip and cleft chin and a light 5 o'clock shadow. My bet is that he was a dignitary or perhaps an honored military officer some time after his active service, with the Napoleonic era influenced hair we know was fashionable in latest 1700s to as late as 1820s. A fine bow-tied ascot and claret red silk-trimmed vest are topped by his royal charcoal grey high-collared top coat, and his full on forward gaze captures us, his viewer, as well as the artist captured his personality and image here. A superb little oval with remarkable detail, the face of this painting is less than 1" in height - imagine! Sealed backing remains adhered so that we couldn't get into the excellent painting to either clean the cover glass or to scan the painting except at a distance and through the glass as the framing allows, and/or look for a signature, but you can see even so, it is a very fine painting. The portrait in goauche is on thin wafer typical of the era and genre. Well framed in an oval matted frame with original bale, easily hung on a family's larger 'heritage' frame of miniatures, or hung on its own. This frame is typical of those used in earliest 1800s France (Napoleonic/Georgian era) and it is in good form.
Very good to excellent condition for age and type. There are no chips, cracks, breaks and no damage to report on the painting, wafer. The eyes on this painting are exceptionally expressive and capture even the fine wrinkles and slightly aging pouch beneath them. Along with a cleft chin and haze of 5 o'clock shadow, it is remarkable to see such exceptional work in such a small painting. Frame shows age, is missing a pin-back, has a bit of rub and mar we didn't even try to remove, and also appears to have some old restoration which is more visible from backside, seems to have to do with addition of the bale. Top hanging bale is well secured. We show its backside in images and you can see that it is sealed so we don't know what information or signature might be on back or outer rim of this fine painting. Cover glass is original from all we can tell, in very fine condition. A lovely 1800-1830 French portrait miniature.