PORTRAIT MINIATURES – Author Elle Shushan, At the De Young Museum, October 27th

The American Decorative Arts Forum presents a discussion of early American miniatures at the Koret Auditorium

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Elle Shushan is foremost among American dealers in portrait miniatures. Shushan concentrates on the full range of the art, showing pieces from the 16th through the 20th centuries, with examples from Great Britain and Europe, along with her extensive collection of American pieces. In addition to working with private collectors, she counts among her clients many major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. On Tuesday, October 27th, 8:00 in the Koret Auditorium of the de Young Museum, Ms Shushan will present a slide lecture, America’s First Face: The Progress of Portrait Miniatures in the New Republic.

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ANSON DICKINSON. By Edward Greene Malbone, Miniaturist.
JOHN WESLEY JARVIS. Self-portrait.

July 11, 1804 marked a turning point for the new republic, the United States of America. The new nation’s naivete was blasted when Vice President Aaron Burr fatally wounded Alexander Hamilton, former Secretary of the Treasury and author of 51 of the 85 “Federalist Papers.” One founding father fatally wounded another founding father, ending America’s age of innocence with the country’s first great political tragedy. Three days after the duel, record crowds thronged Broadway to pay homage as Alexander Hamilton’s funeral cortege passed. While the mourners congregated in the streets below, an important – and far happier – meeting of artistic importance took place. In a studio overlooking the street, Anson Dickinson, then 24 years old, first met the miniaturist Edward Greene Malbone. The legendary reputation of the 26-year old Malbone lead Dickinson to commission Malbone to paint his portrait so that the younger artist could study the more experienced artist’s technique.

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Lady of the Van Wyck Family. Edward Greene Malbone, 1804

Around the corner, 24-year old John Wesley Jarvis formed a partnership with 26-year old Joseph Wood. The four young, attractive, educated men forged a firm friendship and, along the way, developed a distinctively American style. American miniatures developed an open, lighter appearance that reflected the new republic’s – momentarily diminished – optimism. Washes of watercolor bathed rectangular ivory supports with luminosity. Backgrounds of blue sky and clouds gave way to feigned landscapes tinged with shades of turquoise and mauve.

The uniquely American characteristics of the new majestic style influenced, among other artists, Gilbert Stuart and George Savage. The next generation of artists taught by Malbone, Dickinson, Jarvis and Wood – Henry Inman, Charles Bird King, Nathaniel Rogers and Thomas Seir Cummings – helped found the National Academy of Design, in 1825, “to promote the fine arts in America through instruction and exhibition.” The success of that uniquely American institution is demonstrated by subsequent generations of Academicians, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Church, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent to Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Rauschenberg, Wayne Thiebaud and Andrew Wyeth.

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Mendes I. Cohen. Joseph Wood, Baltimore, 1818

Elle Shushan contributed the chapters on portrait miniatures and mourning jewelry in the 2002 book The Art of Family published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Her most recent article, the cover story in the April, 2009 edition of The Magazine Antiques, chronicles the revolution in miniature portraiture in Federal America. She has recently spoken at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Gilbert Stuart Symposium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Colonial Williamsburg Forum, the New Orleans Antiques Forum and Historic New England. Shushan lectures on the subject of portrait miniatures at Sothebys Institute American Arts Course. She is a founding board member of The American Friends of the Wallace Collection, and a board member of The Antiques Dealers Association of America. She serves on the vetting committees of both the Winter Antiques Show in New York and the Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair in London. Shushan’s interest in Memento Mori Art, often a companion field of portrait miniatures, led to her book Grave Matters, a curious collection of 500 actual epitaphs, which was published by Random House.

Arrive early to the lecture! Enjoy the mini-exhibition at 7:15 PM. Be creative in sharing your miniature portraiture and objects. Think small. Think children’s furniture, doll house furnishings, perhaps a tea party in miniature, toys and ships models.

8:00 p.m. lecture: Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter the garage from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance. Admission is free to ADAF members and $15 to the general public.

Add Elle Shushan’s Grave Matters, a curious collection of 500 actual epitaphs to your library on collectibles.

“Divorce was not an option for centuries,” says the author, “primarily for religious reasons, so the pledge of “till death do you part” was a threat to be believed.”

grave-matters

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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