Unknown - naive portrait of a young lady

This miniature is not signed. Initially, it was tentatively attributed to Mrs Moses B Russell (1809- 1854), who is also known by her maiden name of Clarissa Peters. She was active as a miniature painter in Boston between 1836 and 1854.

It was then more likely thought to have been painted by Samuel P Howes (1806-1881) who moved to Lowell, Massachusetts in 1835 and remained there for the rest of his life. However, a kind visitor has since commented below they doubt it is by Howes.

Miniatures by Samuel P Howes are rare and hence, there were very few published examples to make a comparison with. However, there is a 1986 exhibition catalogue of his larger portraits on oil which does include one miniature by him.

It is difficult to generalise, when comparing miniatures and large oils, but in his work of around 1845, there are several examples showing large draperies painted in a similar manner to this miniature.

The 1986 catalogue also contains the following comments on his style, which were written by Paul D'Ambrosio. As the catalogue is very hard to obtain, the comments are repeated in detail below.

"Howes rendering of anatomical features is distinct. His sitter's faces are particularly recognisable as the product of his hand. They are invariably shown in a three-quarter view with an awkwardly turned nose and thick, full cupid's bow lips. All but a few of his first known sitters have elliptical irises. Young children are sometimes depicted with chubby, rounded cheeks. In all of the portraits, the shading of the face and neck is convincingly rendered, giving the sitters a naturalistic appearance."

"Many of the adult sitters have one hand draped over the arm of a chair or sofa, slanting diagonally downward. Often the hand is marked by a pointed thiumb and the slightly extended position of the index and middle fingers. Howes adult sitters of the late 1830's and 1840's also have attenuated arms that, in the male portraits, have a rubbery bend at the elbows. Some of the women's portraits of this time have slim stylized torsos."

"Howes female sitters are frequently adorned with a variety of jewelry including earrings, necklaces, brooches, and rings. There are a variety of background treatments that characterize Howes' work. Drapery, typically a rich red shaded in black, begins to appear in 1839 and is handled in a number of ways. ..... An array of objects used as props can be seen in the various portraits, the most common of which is a book."

By chance, another kind visitor has suggested another miniature which I had previously attributed to Mrs Russell, may instead be by Samuel P Howes. More about that miniature can be seen at Howes, Samuel P - portrait of a young lady

Although now attributed to an unknown artist, based upon the above comments, an attribution to Howes of this miniature of a lady also with a book, seemed reasonable; however the original reasons for attributing it to Mrs Moses B Russell have been retained below, in case there are differing opinions.

Although the portrait initially appears different to those she painted of small children, the reasons for attributing the miniature to her are as follows. Firstly, the overall somewhat naive style, together with the great detail on the dress. Other typical features are the small mouth, the pale skin tones, and the way the hand is painted, cf fig 210 in the Manney Collection.

Secondly, the size of the ivory which is 5 inches by 4 inches. Other works by her are known of this identical size including the portraits of a lady with a closed book (which is by Mrs, not Mr Russell), and of the Starbird children, these two being figs 210 and 212 in the Manney Collection. Also the portrait of Christina Tuffs Barnes illustrated in the Magazine Antiques article of December 1999 by Randall L Holton and Charles A Gilday, although this latter example is on paper.

Thirdly, although the pose and the drapery are a little different, the aforementioned article includes illustrations of four miniatures painted by Mrs Russell where she uses as part of the background, a large draped red cloth of similar colour and apparent size to that appearing in the miniature shown here.

However further expert comment on any other possible attribution is welcome. The sitter is unknown. 1160


Paul D'Ambrosio said...

I dont believe this miniature is by Howes, unfortunately, but the other one alluded to as attributed to Mrs. Russell definitely looks like a Howes to me.

Paul D'Ambrosio

Don Shelton said...

Many thanks for your thoughts, Paul, that is very kind of you. I find that, for me, attributing American miniatures generally ranks somewhere between a minefield and a tar-pit! Thus informed opinions such as yours are welcome.