The Influence of Formal Societies,
Exhibitions and Awards
At the founding of the Royal Academy in England in 1768, miniature paintings hung in the heart of the main exhibition room which came to be known as the Miniature Room.[i] Such prominent display afforded miniaturists easy access to the public patrons but also introduced the element of artistic competition between themselves and the conventional-sized works by peers.[ii]The need to grab public attention and impress their peers forced the miniature painters to adapt their work to succeed.[iii] They faced challenges not unlike today with denigration from peers that theirs was a lesser art. Some felt the art of miniaturists lacked the honor of fine art as it merely provided a service of a personal memento while others espoused further that miniature painting was pursued by those “too stupid or lazy to undertake academic study” in their pursuit “to make an easy living.”[iv]Some critics labeled miniaturists as a “mercenary corps more interested in personal gain than in the loftier aims of high art.”[v]Miniaturists faced an uphill battle to combat these perceptions and while works such as Robertson’s miniatures commanded public attention amidst the overpowering full-size works, the time and effort to produce such larger, technical virtuosities of miniature were too consuming to be practical in a business sense.[vi]Few miniaturists felt compelled to struggle against these odds and even less patrons were willing to financially support them if they did.[vii]Surely without the avenue of these exhibitions and the resulting adaptations in their work, miniaturists would have been swallowed by their mechanical counterpart – the photograph. Exhibitions in hallowed halls gave miniatures the association of belonging in the realm of high art, even when questioned, and these connotations helped establish their value. The market for miniatures as functional objects had been stolen by photography and it was noted that “A first-class miniature is, and must ever be, an expensive object, and those who can paint them are leaving the profession.”[viii]Even the Journal of the Photographic Society of London perceived that photography’s beneficial influence of removing amateur miniaturists of little talent from the field, while regretting that it negatively impacted the lucrative business endeavors of the best miniaturists and shrunk their exhibition space at the Academy.[ix]The number of exhibited miniatures at the Academy in 1830 was over 300 which plummeted to only 33 in 1863.[x] By 1899, miniatures were receiving conspicuous attention at the Academy exhibition demonstrating their revival in public appreciation.[xi] The display of miniatures had grown back up to 245 in the Royal Academy by 1903, and nearly 600 works were displayed between the Society of Miniature Painters and the Society of Miniaturists in England. These 800 were but a portion of the oeuvre of miniature art produced in 1903, but Dudley Heath, miniaturist and scholar, asserted that “the art was never more lacking in talent or vitality.”[xii]Although the establishment of the miniature societies briefly reinvigorated quality works being displayed, by the mid 20th century, the RMS was lamenting the poor treatment afforded miniatures by the Academy with respect to display as well as the convolution of their unique characteristics by mingling them with “small works painted without any semblance to miniature techniques.”[xiii]The 2006 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy had only eight miniatures among the 1,326 exhibited works of art.
The revival of interest in miniature painting in the late 19th century was propelled in America by an 1894 art exhibition held for charity in New York at the National Academy of Design[xiv]. The exhibition, featuring portraits of women, included over 600 portrait miniatures with 100 works being from the collection of Mr. Peter Marié. His collection of historical and contemporary miniature portraits by the world’s foremost miniaturists drew the attention of viewers at the exclusion of many of the conventional works of art.[xv] This exhibition primarily reinforced the perception of miniature painting as high art to the fashionable world but also gave a platform for contemporary miniaturists to display and promote their work.
The first major solo exhibition comprised strictly of miniatures was one by Gerald Sinclair Hayward in New York in 1899. With it, he capitalized on the renewed popularity of miniatures among the social elite.[xvi]This resurgent veritable craze in popularity for miniatures was populated by amateurs, inept in individual character or artistic skill and, while most were conscientious enough to avoid trying to pass off over-painted photographs as original miniatures, they still fell short of pursuit of high art by striving to duplicate exact copies of photographs. The over saturation of these misguided reproductions in the market instilled, if not cemented in the public mind, the belief that miniature painting was not to be taken seriously and was little more than a novel production of a copyist craftsman.[xvii]It was in this mire of belittlement and lack of respect that a handful of artists conceived the concept that the only way to free their genre and rise to aspired heights would be to band together as a formal society of miniature painters and hold their own juried exhibitions.[xviii]The formation of miniature art societies, in an attempt to fix a standard of quality to their genre through exhibitions, faced the challenges of discouraging the amateurs rejected by the juries as well as questioning the status of some artists publicly perceived as established miniaturists of note. The latter often avoided submitting in fear of unfavorable jury results that would diminish their standing in the eyes of their high society clientele.[xix]
The new miniature societies emphasized painting ‘in little’ as separate and above imitative colored photography and marketed as ‘miniatures’ and pursued the inherent right of miniature art to hang in exclusive venues of museums and galleries.[xx]The formation of these groups and their procedures for jurying exhibitions in order to maintain high standards created the prestige requisite of a formal Society.[xxi]The role of the constituent members being to “fearlessly face their responsibilities and justify their superior aims by the steadfastness of their study and the unprejudiced appreciation and help they tender to rising talent.”[xxii] As a proper miniature society they augmented exhibitions with meetings for intellectual exchange and the conduct of business, sponsored lectures, demonstrations, and classes to educate outside their circle to both preserve and promote their genre. Finally they strove to accumulate a representative permanent collection of works, literature and society archives for posterity.[xxiii]
Modern Societies retain the vitality of miniature art in all its varied nuances although today the fascination lies more with intricate craftsmanship of technique in such a small format more than the cherished associations of the private mementos of the past.[xxiv]The world’s first International Seminar for Miniature Artists, hosted by the Hilliard Society in Bath, England in 1995, explored the theme “Comparisons of Style and Technique; Are there any international variations?” and brought together representatives from America, Australia, England, Ireland and South Africa with lectures and slide presentations elaborating upon the regional characteristics of miniature art.[xxv] Prices for miniatures vary due to the reputation and achievements of artists in exhibitions. Striving for recognition via awards helps to establish the value for work by a particular artist and proportionately relates to supporting their livelihood.[xxvi]The role of high society rarely influences the value of modern miniaturists’ works as it had in the pre-revival period days. Only a handful of living miniaturists cater to royalty and aristocratic society, and such work, by itself, is rarely enough to support them even with the associated prestige and referrals. While further contributing to the demand for these miniature artists’ works, the path to value through exhibitions and awards trumps catering to the elite from an artist’s point of view. Following personal creative endeavors, and finding recognition and honor for such pursuits, far more satisfies the soul than attempting to please the whims of patrons commissioning works.
Nearly all miniature art exhibitions today are open to public submissions from non-members. The appeals of enticing new artists to attempt work in miniature are affected by miniature groups dangling award monies and successful sales rates to their prospects. Once inside the fold, and especially once exposed in person to the charm and variety in miniature, often initial testers of the field become captivated by the genre and pursue it to a greater degree.
The hope of one day attaining eligibility for the prestigious Miniature Artists of America (MAA), and election by one’s peers into the Membership, is tantalizing to novice miniaturists with this society’s guidelines encouraging submissions to the accredited exhibitions. The MAA, in 1989, started their Traveling Exhibition of Members’ works as both a promotional and educational tool representing miniature art. Since that time, the changing exhibit has traveled to nearly one hundred venues including Australia and Japan.[xxvii]
The thought of an international society representing miniaturists and constituent societies in scope with worldwide exhibitions was first proposed in 1921 by Alyn Williams.[xxviii]* The idea revived under the influence of Jane Blake, who envisioned an international organization composed of societies around the world. MAA established an Interim Committee to research this for the next three years. A meeting in London, England, with representatives from seventeen different societies around the world, resulted in the formation of a new organization in November of 1995: The World Federation of Miniaturists (WFM).[xxix] While forming an overseeing body to the worldwide fingers of the miniature movement had advantages in communication, the WFM makes little effort in creating any recognized standard or in attempting to govern the various miniature organizations and societies. While the WFM did discuss the issue, Sue Burton, as acting administrator, emphasized that imposing a single standard or definition would diminish the variety of the genre worldwide.[xxx] The view that individual societies should establish their own criteria prevailed as did the persistent opinion that some boundaries were requisite. The greatest achievement of the WFM has been the Worldwide Exhibitions of Fine Art in Miniature. Held approximately every four years since the debut in London in conjunction with the Royal Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers Society’s 100th Anniversary Celebration, the exhibition brings together over 1,000 works of miniature art from around the globe and provides opportunities for miniaturists to interact with peers from afar.
The acceptable size of miniatures has been determined by exhibition space more than semantic debate or public taste. As venues became more crowded with submissions, size was gradually reduced from the larger formats made popular in the tumultuous age of the mid 19th century down to the present day formats of fifteen to thirty-five square inches.[xxxi]The entrenched guidelines for acceptable image size, reinforced by the AMA standard, will remain steadfast in the foreseeable future and it is unlikely that miniaturists will repeat the mistakes of the mid 19th century by trying to enlarge the formats.
Current miniature art societies and exhibitions promote novelty by following the tradition started by the National Academy of Design in 1826. Displayed works are to be by living artists only, not previously exhibited, and excluded from future shows with little exception.[xxxii] This turnover avoids stagnation. The policy by many exhibitions to have multiple award categories and limit awards to one per artist provides a broader base of recognition. Specialized awards, such as the MASF award for ‘Best Traditional Portrait’ encourages pursuit of classical techniques to ensure their continuation.
Exhibitions provide a unique opportunity to interact with miniatures and witness firsthand their charm, an experience unduplicated in representations in print or online. In the words of scholar, Jim Murrell:
First look at a miniature generally as a painting, as a portrait, and as a piece of design. Then think about the period in which it was painted and the technical limitations of that time. Finally, and most important, get as close as you can, or better, use a magnifying glass, and really look. See the textures of the paint, the smoothness or freeness of execution, and the unique touch of the artist’s brush.[xxxiii]
Properly appreciating a miniature, in context of the broad scope of the present genre, can only be accomplished by physically standing in front of these gems of the art world.
Stepping back to see a full-scale portrait in its entirety provides a fundamentally different experience from bending toward a miniature to see the details. Robin Jaffee Frank[xxxiv]
The introduction of formal recognition via awards, and particularly the prospect of financial gain, has stimulated miniaturists towards production of their finest works for submission to these exhibitions. As most awards judges are established experts in fine art but are not necessarily familiar with miniatures, the field is reinforced in emphasizing the overarching qualities of art in general versus specific attributes of miniatures. The establishment of awards via society exhibitions created an elite group of miniaturists inspiring emulation for quality and indirectly developing a standard of definition for those endeavoring to join their ranks.[xxxv]
Miniaturists throughout time have been recognized for their talent as artists with memberships in prestigious academies and societies as well as inclusion in honored exhibitions based upon artistic merit without regard to size. Individual and group showings of miniatures have been commonplace in gallery settings and have provided many a miniaturist a springboard into the miniature genre as a career. Solo museum exhibitions of miniaturist’s works and inclusions in museums’ collections, however, remain rare feats of academic acknowledgement. These, alongside miniatures being juried into prestigious exhibitions in the domain of conventional sized art, reinforce that miniaturists have indeed succeeded in attaining their goal of miniature art being recognized fully as fine art. This effort is compounded by restrictions eliminating smaller sized works from many of the exhibitions focused on conventional larger sizes likely due to security concerns.
The idea of highlighting a single individual’s work in an exhibition was promoted by the Fine Art Society in London, and, in 1906, they displayed twenty-three of the American Eulabee Dix’s miniature portraits.[xxxvi] Cornelia Ellis Hildebrandt was potentially the first revival period miniaturist honored with a solo exhibition in a museum when the Worcester Art Museum displayed fifteen of her miniatures in 1912.[xxxvii]Alyn Williams and Louis Rosenthal held a joint exhibition of portrait and sculpture miniatures at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, in 1924.[xxxviii]Rosenthal, considered the “father of miniature sculpture”,additionally had exhibitions of his miniatures at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Jewish Museum of New York and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, MD.[xxxix]Eulabee Dix, at age eighty in 1958, received recognition as the first living artist to have a retrospective display of work in Portugal’s prestigious Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon which featured seventy-six of her miniature paintings.[xl] The National Museum of Women in the Arts, in Washington, DC, holds over eighty-six of her paintings in their Permanent Collection and has staged four exhibitions featuring her miniature portraits posthumously.[xli]— Five revival period miniaturists’ works were purchased for the Permanent Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and other members’ works reside in the Collection as well.[xlii]— At the demise of the ASMP, the Society, under the direction of Rosina Cox Boardman, bequeathed a juried nineteen-piece collection of miniatures, one from each present ASMP Member, to the Smithsonian.[xliii] The Brooklyn Museum also helped establish precedence when they acquired seventeen revival period miniatures for their permanent collection.[xliv]*
Glenora Richards, MAA Signature Member as of 1993, and the last surviving Member of the ASMP, alongside Clara Louise Bell, were the only representatives of living miniaturists to take part in the 1966 traveling miniature art exhibition from the Smithsonian’s National Collection of Fine Arts hosted by the IBM Gallery in New York.[xlv] Richards, at one hundred years of age, continued her work in miniature until her passing in 2009. Richards’ miniatures are part of the Permanent Collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Collection of Fine Arts, the Worcester Art Museum, the Yale Museum of Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Other active Members of the MAA have also achieved recognition in museum collections with their miniatures: William P. (Bill) Mundy in the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum where he is the only living miniaturist represented in the Museum’s vast holdings of historic miniatures. Rachelle Siegrist has two miniatures in the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum’s collection in Wausau, WI.*
Members of the MAA have been repeatedly juried into distinguished museum exhibits with their miniatures*: Beverly Abbott, Tykie Ganz, Linda Rossin, Rachelle Siegrist and Wes Siegrist in the Art & the Animal Exhibition of the Society of Animal Artists; Rachelle Siegrist into Birds in Art; Chrysoula Argyros in the Watercolor Society of South Africa Exhibition; Linda Rossin and Rachelle Siegrist in the Art of Conservation exhibition. Dean Mitchell in the Watercolor Society of Alabama Exhibition; Janet Laird-Lagassee in the American Academy of Equine Art Fall Open Juried Exhibition in Lexington, KY, and the Masters of Watercolor show hosted by the New England Watercolor Society; Rosalind Pierson in the Paris Salon and Michael Coe, Alan Farrell, William Mundy, Rosalind Pierson and Rita Whitaker in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions. Over ten of Mundy’s miniatures were exhibited in the Summer Royal Academy Exhibitions. Margi Cochran exhibited her miniatures alongside her large scale work at the Kirkleatham Old Hall Museum and the Middlesbrough Museum Service, both in England. Margi was the first American artist to exhibit with the Museum Service. Dean Mitchell has had his miniatures included in several of his solo and group museum exhibitions including those at the Mississippi Art Museum; American Jazz Museum, Kansas City, MO; Margaret Harwell Art Museum, Poplar Bluff, MO; the Tampa Museum of Art; the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, Tarpon Springs, FL and the Cornell Museum of Art, Delray Beach, FL.
Noted historian on American wildlife art and museum curator, Dr. David J. Wagner, has curated over twenty miniatures by MAA artists for various exhibitions with national museum tour venues.[xlvi]*— Additionally he has curated six exhibitions of fifty of the Siegrists’ miniature paintings and small works at the R. W. Norton Art Gallery, Shreveport, LA; the Dennos Museum Center, Traverse City, MI; the West Baton Rouge Museum, Port Allen, LA; the Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure, Salina, KS; the museum of the Southwest, Midland, TX and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ. These achievements, and the honors bestowed upon miniaturists, conclusively illustrate the intentions of the founders of the miniature art societies have been fulfilled.
The content below has been added by the author as pertinent to the reader with the subject of the specific chapter. If you are a MAA Signature Member and have information relevant for this, or any other chapter, please contact the author.
– As of 2010, miniature art societies and exhibitions have made a concerted effort to address the issue of what constitutes “original” work due to submissions of photographic and printed paint-overs.
– Endnote xxviii/194 in printed book: Alyn Williams may have proposed his “International Society of Miniature Painters” at the “In Little” joint exhibition at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA (Dec. 19 to Jan. 10, 1921). The Exhibition was comprised of @350 works from the American Society of Miniature Painters, the Royal Miniature Society and the Pennsylvania Society of Miniature Painters. [http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=djft3U1LymYC&dat=19211023&printsec=frontpage&hl=en – The Pittsburgh Press, Oct. 23, 1921. accessed 4.2012]
– Solo Museum Exhibitions of Miniaturists’ Works: 1963 Exhibit of 50+ miniature paintings by Malthe Hasseiris at the Gibbes Art Gallery, Charleston, SC
– Group museum exhibitions of MAA Members’ works: American Academy of Equine Art’s Fall 2015 Open Exhibition: Rachelle Siegrist;
– MAA Signature Members’ work in Museum collections: Jeanne Dunne – Presidential portrait miniature of George H. Bush in the Butler Institute of American Art’s collection (1998); Wes and Rachelle Siegrist: Presidential portrait miniatures of George W. Bush and Barack Obama in the Woolaroc Museum’s collection (2012); Wes and Rachelle Siegrist: Permanent Collections of the R.W. Norton Art Gallery, Shreveport, LA and the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, WI.
– The number of miniature paintings curated by Dr. Wagner grows annually by 6-12 works including these exhibitions not mentioned in endnote #212: The Sea of Cortez, 2013 (Wes & Rachelle Siegrist); American Still Lifes 2014 (Janet Laird-Lagassee, Wes & Rachelle Siegrist); Feline Fine II ~ Art of Cats 2014 (Wes & Rachelle Siegrist); AMERICA’S PARKS II 2014 (Beverly Abbott, Rachelle Siegrist, Wes Siegrist); The Society of Animal Artists (SAA) ‘Art & the Animal’ Annual Exhibition [Juried by SAA Board Members] (Beverly Abbott, Judy Lalingo, Linda Rossin, Rachelle Siegrist, Wes Siegrist);
– The Siegrists’ Exhibition “EXQUISITE MINIATURES” includes the additional venues: the Yadkin Cultural Arts Center, Yadkinville, NC; the Dunnegan Gallery of Art, Bolivar, MO; the ArtCenter Manatee, Bradenton, FL; the Museum of the Gulf Coast, Port Arthur, TX; the Nevada State Museum, Carson City, NV; the San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego, CA; the Kenosha Public Museum, Kenosha, WI, The Wildlife Experience, Parker, CO; the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, Jamestown, NY; The Steamboat Art Museum, Steamboat Springs, CO; The Albany Museum of Art, Albany, GA; The Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Hays, KS; The Woolaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve, Bartlesville, OK; The Dane G. Hansen Memorial Museum, Logan, KS; The George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, Joplin, MO; The Center for the Arts of Bonita Springs, Bonita Spings, FL; The Stauth Memorial Museum, Motezuma, KS; The Mari Sardoz High Plains Heritage Center, Chadron, NE; The Neville Public Museum, Green Bay, WI and The Customs House Museum and Cultural Center, Clarksville, TN.
[i] Photographic Society of Great Britain. “Exhibition of the Photographic Society of Scotland.” Journal of the Photographic Society Vol. 5. No. 70. (London: Taylor, 1859), 20.