Portrait miniatures – these small images have a passionate following. They are personal, intimate paintings that engender such a feeling. Portraits differ from paintings in so much that the y developed from the art of illuminated manuscripts.
They are not simply smaller versions of paintings, but a very specific art defined by their medium. A miniature is only a miniature if it is painted in watercolours or on a support of vellum, just like a manuscript, or on ivory, which was the preferred support from the early 18th century until the end of the 19th century.
From the outset, miniatures were private portraits. Their purpose was intentionally quite different
to that of the large oil paintings which could be used to inspire awe in a number of spectators.
Richard Cosway was the leading portrait miniaturist of the Regency era. His success lay in his ability to enhance the beauty and elegance of all of his sitters. He painted his first portrait of George IV in 1780 and was appointed Painter to the Prince of Wales in 1785. Cosway enjoyed continuous patronage from the Prince. As these miniatures were often exhibited and engraved, Cosway had considerable influence over the official image of the Prince. Cosway exhibited his first miniatures in London in 1762 and was quickly in demand in fashionable circles. He married the Anglo-Italian artist Maria Hadfield in 1781 and together they much influenced London's fashionable elite and the art world. He painted many European Royals outside the British court including Madam du Barry, mistress of King Louis XV of France.
Collecting miniature portraits is sometimes like a lucky dip as one never knows quite what will come up next