From the day the Cleveland Museum of Art opened its doors in 1916, portrait miniatures have been a part of its collection. In 1895 Jeptha Wade II (1857–1926), one of the museum’s founders, purchased several fine miniatures in Paris. Supplemented by portraits acquired during trips to London in 1895 and Austria and St. Petersburg in 1896, the museum received around two dozen miniatures from the Wade collection between 1916 and 1926. They formed the seed of the museum’s holdings that have grown over the last century to around 170 examples of the art form.
The Wade family had a love of portrait miniatures, but it was Jeptha’s son-in-law Edward B. Greene (1878–1957) who gave his distinguished European portrait miniatures collection to the museum, establishing it as one of the finest in the country. In addition to donating the majority of his collection in the 1940s—gifts that included Samuel Cooper’s Portrait of Thomas Hobbes (1949.548) and Isaac Oliver’s Portrait of Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford, née Harrington (1941.559)—Greene sponsored the acquisition of several important miniatures during the early 1950s, most notably John Smart’s 1802 Self-Portrait (1952.95) and Richard Cosway’s Portrait of Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans, later King of the French (1953.322). Greene’s far-sighted investment in the collection manifested itself in his exclusive financial backing of the 1951 catalogue featuring his promised gifts.
Fortunately, private support for miniatures did not die with Edward Greene, as evidenced most recently by eight portraits given to the museum by bequest of Muriel Butkin (1915–2008). The museum’s commitment to building this part of the collection has also been exercised by recent acquisitions by Anna Maria Carew, Joseph Daniel, John Linnell, and Isaac Oliver. Such newly accessioned miniatures and thematically related selections from the collection are regularly rotated in the galleries.
Since the 1950s and the publication of the Greene collection catalogue, portrait miniatures have received much more scholarly attention from art and social historians, who have reclaimed the art form once marginalized as the artistic occupation of dilettantes. By the early twentieth century, monographs of the most well-known practitioners had been published, reinvigorated by a renaissance in miniature collecting. But it wasn’t until the 1970s and ’80s that scholars began to study the social framework of miniature painting and to situate it within the revealing contexts of court culture, diplomacy, intimate gift giving, colonialism, and extra-academic artistic practice. The digital and print publication of illustrated catalogues featuring both public and private collections as well as special exhibitions have presented the modern scholar with the fodder to reevaluate the CMA’s collection in light of recent research and institutional collaborations.
The scope of this collection includes more than ten nationalities and spans the sixteenth to the twentieth century. At the CMA the portrait miniatures bridge five curatorial departments—a testament to the longevity and material diversity of the art form. Although the collection contains gems from each century and nation represented, it is particularly strong in British and French specimens. Greene admitted to caring less for American miniatures, though he did purchase a handful of important examples in this area.
For the purposes of this catalogue, the term miniature is defined broadly as a small portrait painted in watercolor on vellum or ivory, but metal and paper supports are also represented. The miniatures are mounted in a wide variety of settings including boxes, lockets, standing frames, rings, and bracelets. Sizes range from nearly ten inches in height to less than one inch. The collection also includes graphite preparatory studies on paper as well as cabinet miniatures featuring religious or historical scenes, and photography-related miniatures set in Fabergé objets d’art. We have not included boxes painted with decorative mythological or genre scenes, silhouettes, or portrait drawings that were not preparatory sketches for miniatures. The collection is dynamic in nature, and future acquisitions may alter the collecting paradigm that has been followed to date.
The publication of this digital catalogue is ongoing as segments are completed. Installments are grouped and released according to national school and date. The sections may be read online or printed by individual entry or artist. It is often impossible in print publications to include a generous amount of related images, but in striving to take advantage of the more flexible character of this digital catalogue, we have made it a priority to incorporate visually compelling comparative works from other collections. We have also endeavored to integrate pertinent conservation photographs in recognition of the wealth of information revealed by the dissection of these objects, whose social histories are often inscribed in their complex and changing physical compositions.