One of the best, and most prolific, American miniature painters of the early 19C was Nathaniel Rogers (1787-1844). Rogers first exhibited at the American Academy of Fine Arts in 1817 and thereafter was a regular contributor. As he rarely signed his work, attributing his miniatures can be a challenge for those unfamiliar with his work.
However, for those collectors who recognize his miniature portraits, his style, although changing as his career developed, is very distinctive, although it is a bit difficult to explain what makes it so distinctive. I think probably it is his soft perfection, with his distinctive style best explained and understood by comparing the eyes of his various sitters. Certainly his work is appealing and most collections have at least one example. The Metropolitan Museum has 19 miniature portraits by Rogers and the Smithsonian has three examples.
Three miniatures by Rogers were added to this collection as part of a group of six miniatures offered as a lot by Kaminski Auctions, where none of the artists were identified by the auctioneers. However, the six included three miniatures by Nathaniel Rogers, one of a man against a pale background by Robert Field, one of an older woman by Edward Miles, and a sixth, on the left below by an as yet unidentified American artist.
The auction description was; Kaminski Auctions; "Lot: 3395 - Description: Six (6) miniature portraits, watercolor on ivory, largest is 3 1/4" x 2 1/2". Three (3) have cracked ivory; not examined out of frames. Estimate $300~500"
Although three miniatures were cracked, the lot was sold for a hammer price of $3100, another instance where the sale price was ten times the low estimate. The miniature at the top left is the only identified sitter.
From an inscription on the reverse, his name appears to be Mr. Robert Bloomfield. He is probably the Robert Bloomfield born in 1793 at Hartford, CT, the son of Thomas Bloomfield (1764-?) and his wife, Barbara Lane (1768-?). Barbara being the daughter of Rupert Lane (1732-1800) of Wiltshire England and Rebecca Swain who were married in 1755. That would fit with a miniature painted around 1815-1820. Initially, the miniature could not be attributed, but a kind authority on American miniatures has since advised it appears to be an early Nathaniel Rogers.
Rogers is believed to have met Anson Dickinson in Connecticut before moving to New York in 1807, where he took instruction from P Howell and Uriah Brown, before becoming an apprentice to Joseph Wood in 1811. Thus, Rogers' early work was influenced by those artists, and this can be seen in the Robert Bloomfield miniature. Although the damage adversely affects its value, the miniature does have interest as a named sitter and an early example by Rogers.
Rogers quickly developed his own style, maturing into that of the man on the right and the lady at the bottom left, which are also by Rogers, most likely a husband and wife pair. Although they are in replacement frames their condition is very good for miniatures 200 years old, and better than appears in the above image, as they benefited from the glasses being cleaned. The lady is very similar in appearance to the miniature of Matilda Few of c1815, owned by the Metropolitan Museum, so she and her husband probably date to around 1815. That makes them quite early works by Rogers, as Rogers took over Joseph Wood's practice in 1814. The CAA at the Gibbes Museum owns another Rogers miniature of a not too dissimilar lady named Martha Johnson, which must date to around 1815.
The fact of the two Rogers miniatures being in replacement frames itself is of interest. As I have discussed elsewhere, the art of miniature painting and the obtaining of artist's materials were adversely impacted upon by the Embargo Act and the War of 1812. Ivory itself does not seem to have been hard to obtain, but frames were imported from Britain. From the passing of the Embargo Act, until the aftermath of the 1812 War had passed, the reduced number of miniatures painted during this period tended to be housed in "make-do" frames, made of whatever local materials and scraps were available. These were not well enough or purpose made to last, and hence miniatures painted between 1808 and 1818 have often been given replacement cases. A personal opinion is that genuine "make-do" frames dating from between 1808 and 1818 are important historical relics in their own right, and they should be retained, if a miniature of the period is found housed in one of them.
The man on the left was also in good condition, either British or American, he has not yet been attributed to an artist. The other two cracked miniatures include one by Robert Field and a lady by Edward Miles. Although in poor condition, the two are still helpful for reference purposes.
The fortunate purchase of the three Rogers miniatures at the Kaminski auction, brings the total of Rogers miniatures in this collection to eight. The one of the pretty young lady is especially welcome as "pretty ladies and children" are much harder to find than "boring old men", the previous acquisitions all being males. 1396, 1397, 1398, 1399, 1400, 1401.
The others are shown here in approximate time of painting, so that the development of Rogers style can be seen. The second one is in a "make-do" case of around 1815 with an extra fillet, and the others range through to the rectangular one dating to about 1830, which has an unusual background very similar in style to two portraits of ladies by Rogers in the Metropolitan collection.
Over time, Rogers tended to move from a more angular, gaunt and unsmiling style, reminiscent of Joseph Wood and appropriate to the United States during the time of the 1807 Embargo Act and the resultant War of 1812, to a well-fed and rosy cheeked appearance, with a hint of a smile, during the following years of peace and prosperity! This latter period was a time when more people could afford to have miniatures painted and hence most of Rogers miniatures date from between 1820 and 1835, with his output seeming to cease just prior to the advent of the cold wind of photography. Rogers was only 57 when he died, so could have been even more prolific had he lived longer.
Rogers, Nathaniel - portrait of David Ryerson
Rogers, Nathaniel - portrait of Dana Eleutheros Comstock
Rogers, Nathaniel - portrait of a man
Rogers, Nathaniel - portrait of Master Bucknell
Rogers, Nathaniel - portrait of a young man
Restoration of the Nathaniel Rogers House in Bridgehampton NY is officially underway. The house was built for Rogers in 1842 and known as Hampton House. Its magnificence gives a idea of how important he was as an artist. The house has apparently suffered from deferred maintenance and so the restoration is welcome. These days, the price of the exterior stabilization will be $1.9 million, but that's just a drop in the ionic column compared to the renovation's total expected cost of $4.5 million. Of that sum, the historical society already has commitments of $2.2 million, including $1.1 million from Southampton Town over the next three years. Another $850,000 has come from private donors, and $250,000 from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The building has been listed on the National and New York State Registers of Historic Places.
It is intended to hold a major exhibition of his work in the house on completion. Successful and sympathetic restoration of the project may lead to a resurgence of interest in Rogers who, as with other miniature painters of the 19C and early 20C, has been much under-rated as an artist. The Project welcomes donations.
Nathaniel Rogers House Preservation Project
For those interested, there is an extensive article about Rogers at; The Legacy of Nathaniel Rogers (1787-1844) Long Island Artist from ...