Museum  December 11, 2019

Portable Memorials: Portrait Miniatures

NOMA

Attributed to Ozias Humphry (British, 1742–1810), Dodda Vira Raja (or, Vira Rajendra Wodeyar), Ruler of Coorg 1780-1809, c. 1787. Watercolor on ivory. Gift of Shirley Latter Kaufmann in memory of Harry and Anna Latter, 74.649.

NEW ORLEANS, LA – The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) presents the museum’s Latter-Schlesinger Collection of Portrait Miniatures. Cradled in the palm of the hand or worn close to the heart, portrait miniatures were never intended for public consumption, but rather, functioned as personal tokens of affection, love, or memorial. Drawing from NOMA’s permanent collection, the installation of more than 100 portrait miniatures is now on view in the Lupin Foundation Decorative Arts Galleries on the museum’s second floor.

NOMA

Andrew Plimer (British, 1763–1837), Henrietta Ponsonby, Countess of Bessborough, c. 1795. Watercolor on ivory, frame with pearls. Gift of Shirley Latter Kaufmann in memory of Harry and Anna Latter, 74.654.

“NOMA’s Latter-Schlesinger Collection of Portrait Miniatures, given in 1974 by Shirley Latter Kaufmann in honor of her parents, Harry and Anna Latter, is one of the singularly important collections at this museum,” said Susan Taylor, NOMA’s Montine McDaniel Freeman Director. “Ranging from the court of Henry VIII to Napoleonic France, the collection includes masterful examples of the important artists and techniques used in the art of miniature portraits.”

Portrait miniatures were the passion of New Orleans collectors Harry and Anna Latter. In 1957, the Latters traveled to London to oversee a government project and dedicated the trip to the pursuit of English portrait miniatures. After her parent’s passing, Kaufmann gifted the comprehensive collection to NOMA, where she was a trustee for more than twenty years and board president in 1978. The family continues Kaufmann’s tradition of supporting the museum through the Milton H. Latter Educational and Charitable Foundation, which sponsored the design and fabrication of a custom cabinet for the magnificent collection.

NOMA

Nicholas Hilliard (English, 1547–1619), Portrait of an Elizabethan Court Lady, c. 1590. Watercolor on parchment. Gift of Shirley Latter Kaufmann in memory of Harry and Anna Latter, 74.337.

Portrait miniatures feature details of historic lace, jewelry, ornate hairstyles, royal adornments and military regalia, all executed by the artist sometimes using a single hair as a brush. The earliest 16th-century miniatures were painted with watercolor onto vellum (animal skin) or cardstock, but by the 18th-century heyday of portrait miniatures, artists painted on thin sheets of ivory for a natural luminescence to the watercolor portraits. NOMA’s collection includes master miniature artists Nicholas Hilliard (English, 1547-1619), John Hoskins the Elder (English, c.1590-1665), Samuel Cooper (English, 1609-1672), Richard Cosway (British, 1742-1821), and George Engleheart (British, 1752-1829). On view are examples of portraits framed with the sitter’s hair, intricately arranged and braided, and two “lover’s eye” miniatures, capturing just an intimate close-up of the sitter’s eye, recognizable only to her dearest confidants.

A tablet produced by NOMA details the stories behind these portrait miniatures, with the stories of royalty and historic celebrities, the highly-skilled craft of miniature painting, and the Latter family collection.

NOMA’s installation was made possible with the support of the Milton H. Latter Educational and Charitable Foundation.

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