Trott, Benjamin - portrait of a man
This particular miniature was advertised on eBay by a specialist art dealer in Paris as;
ANTIQUE French Empire Miniature Painting on Ivory Gentleman c1800 Ebonized Frame You are viewing an exquisite French miniature portrait of a gentleman circa 1790 to 1810. I have taken lots of closeup photographs to show the quality of the painting. The detail in the man's hair and scarf is exceptional. It comes with what looks like the original lacquered frame with an oval gilt brass surround and an oak and acorn hanger. The image measures approximately 3 x 2 1/3 inches; the frame measures approximately 6 x 5 1/4 inches. Both painting and frame show signs of wear consistent with an antique around 200 years old. Some chipping to the frame (which appears to be papier mache), and some scratching and paint oxidation to the portrait (please refer to photos or email me with specific condition questions). The piece comes with its convex glass which has no cracks or chips. Shipping will be $15 internationally from France. Please view my feedbacks and bid with confidence on this great European artwork.
Although this one of an unknown man was advertised in France, early miniatures did sometimes cross and recross the Atlantic with settlers or with residents returning to Europe. In this instance, the distinctive style of the background made me believe it was by the noted American artist, Benjamin Trott (1770-1843). Despite some minor paint disturbance at the very bottom, at a price of $325 it was therefore a fortunate 'bargain'. The price being fair for an unknown artist, but enhanced by an attribution to Trott, which seems a fair and reasonable attribution, but it is always difficult to be 100% sure of an artist.
Trott lived in Philadelphia in 1806-1820. He was noted for the tousled hair of his sitters and after 1800 a technique of assured, dashing, fluid brushwork applied in natural, clear, colors. Backgrounds with a sky motif were created by floating on this washes of white and blue and leaving large areas of the ivory unpainted. These characteristics can be seen here.
Guest Gallery: Trott, Benjamin - portrait of Dr John Floyd The Metropolitan Museum has this portrait of Charles Floyd by Trott to the right, which presumably depicts a brother of Dr John Floyd. The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Charles Floyd
Another interesting point about the new addition to this collection is the framing. I have written previously expressing views about the impact of the Embargo Act on American miniatures, and concern about those dealers who remove original frames and replace them with more attractive frames to enhance the selling value. Sometimes that is unavoidable if the frame is damaged, but I believe the 'make-do' frames of 1808-1812 are a special case and should be retained as legitimate and important evidence of the effects on trade of the Embargo Act. A search of this website will bring up more comments, such as those at 3 American Miniature Portraits: Unknown French artist - Unknown ...
In this instance a sliver of additional ivory can be seen on the extreme right of the unframed portrait. This was used to try and fill the observable view from the front, but from the rear it is obvious the case was still too large. This, and the use of an ebonised type frame, allows me to date the miniature as painted in Philadelphia in 1808-1812. The Embargo Act prevented the importation of oval gold casework from Britain. Artists often still had residual stock of blank ivory plaques, but new gold metal cases and glasses were unavailable.
It may surprise non-collectors to realise that early miniatures slightly vary in size and oval shape. As a result between 1808-1812 artists had to either make up cases from scrap material or use frames of slightly the wrong size. In this instance Trott needed to use an ebonised frame slightly too large and hence needed to add a sliver of ivory on the right. 1476
Recently Cowan's Auctions advertised the right hand miniature of Henry Clay by Benjamin Trott with an estimate of $6000-$8000 despite it being cracked down the middle. This indicates how significant the sitter can be in establishing a price for a miniature portrait. That on the left was sold as lot 475 by Freeman's for $10,000 in April 2010, it being a portrait of John Baldwin Large (1780-1866). However, both those prices seem rather high for Trott as an artist, so there may have been special circumstances. The Freeman's estimate was $3000-$5000 which seems more reasonable, although it has to be admitted miniatures by the better American artists are increasingly difficult to find.
Much later: a kind visitor has forwarded this photo of a family ancestor depicted in a very good miniature by Benjamin Trott; it is of William Newton Lane (1772-1822).
Although not all Trott's miniatures are painted in the same way, the commonality of style in the examples here gives a good indication of what to look for.
Later again, June 2016 - As an indication of the often limited expert knowledge about American Miniatures, I recently noted Lot 133, as below, at Americana & Fine and Decorative Art: Important Kentucky Estates 06/24/2016 10:00 AM EDT Cowan's Auctions
This lot had an estimate of $50-$100, but I was fairly confident the man was painted by Benjamin Trott. I opted not to bid, but as the item was being auctioned for charity, I decided it was only fair to send Cowans an email prior to the auction, saying I believed it was by Benjamin Trott. I do not know whether they mentioned that at the time of the auction, but it was clear that other collectors had a similar view, as it sold for $3,075.
However, if it had been properly catalogued I believe it could have sold for even more. The moral of the story is that catalogue descriptions are often inaccurate, and it is still possible to locate bargains.
Posted by Don Shelton at 3:25 PM