Unknown - portrait of a boy

Although unsigned, this miniature was initially attributed to Thomas Story Officer (1810-1859). Unfortunately, the sitter is unknown.

However, a kind visitor has subsequently advised they believe the miniature is too late for Officer and is instead by an as yet unidentified revival miniaturist working around 1890-1900.

Additional helpful comments in support of that doubt about Officer include; "the boy is much softer and is dressed in theatrical costume, typical of many revival pieces and rarely, if ever, used during the 1840's and 50's, where the style was realism. Also, Officer did not use a solid grey background, in fact no American artist working in the 1840's did so, there is always some highlighting. "

To enable visitors to follow this logic and better understand the doubt about Officer as the artist, the earlier discussion on the attribution has been retained below.

Thomas Story Officer studied under Thomas Sully and exhibited frequently at the Artist's Fund Society in Philadelphia. He also exhibited at the National Academy of Design and the American Art Union from 1846 to 1850.

It is uncommon, but not rare for miniatures to be painted with the sitter in full or three-quarter length. Very few artists painted in this manner in the 19C. However, Officer seems to be one of the few 19C artists who did do.

In the Smithsonian American Art Museum there is one miniature by Officer, of a lady and it has some similarities to the boy in 18C costume, including being three-quarter length and with a lot of detail. It is also relatively large in size as size of 127 mm x 64 mm, see Portrait of a Lady

After visiting Australia, in 1855 Officer moved to San Francisco where he opened a studio and achieved great success. Johnson quotes a contemporary comment about a miniature Officer painted in 1858 which had earned a certificate of merit and was praised for its "delicacy of handling, force of character and expression, and exquisiteness of finish."

Officer also submitted a "photograph in oil" to a 1858 exhibition. This description sounds unusual, but is probably intended to refer to a miniature painted in so much detail, that it resembled a photograph. This effect can be seen in the miniature of two children shown below. In his obituary Officer was described as "in all probability, the best portrait painter ever in California."

Unfortunately, Officer died an impoverished alcoholic and was buried in a public plot. At the time, this was probably the major reason why he was quickly forgotten as an artist. If he had lived a full and sober life, no doubt he would have come to be regarded as a highly respected "elder statesman" painter of the 19C, as was the case with Nathaniel Rogers, Moses B Russell, John Wood Dodge, and John Henry Brown.

Johnson also comments, "To modern tastes Officer's early miniature portraits, painted from life, are more successful than his "fancy pieces", which are slick and overly sentimental. "During the mid-nineteenth century, however, works of this kind held wide appeal."

A description as "overly sentimental" seems to fit this miniature of a boy in 18C costume.

The boy is dressed in 18C costume, although the miniature is not 18C in artistic style. The boy's expression seems to be saying "Why do I have to wear this silly get-up?".

The miniature is expertly painted and the material covering the table has a lot of detail, as does his costume.The hands are well painted, usually the sign of a good artist. The detail even includes buckled shoes. As traditionally befits a miniature of a boy, the colors are sober.

This is however, also a reflection of the time when it would have been painted, when miniature painters were facing competition from photography. To combat such low cost competition, it seems that some artists tried to find a niche that was hard for photography to compete with.

John Henry Brown, went for even better quality realism, but with the addition of color. Moses B Russell and his wife, Clarissa Peters Russell tended towards a "folk art" effect with their miniatures, and Thomas Story Officer painted "fancy pieces", even using these words as part of his description on the rear of the miniature by him in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, see fig 140 in Johnson.

Within this collection are these two miniatures, both purchased at public auction without attribution, but since attributed to Thomas Story Officer. However, even so it is conceded there is more certainty about the attribution of the Hull portrait to Officer, than the one of the two children.

They are shown here but are described more fully at Officer, Thomas Story - portrait of Dr Amos Hull and Officer, Thomas Story - portrait of two children 1265

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