This volume is the first complete catalogue of The Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of American portrait miniatures, tiny, vivid miracles of the painter's art. The Museum's holdings are the world's most comprehensive. They span two hundred years, from the mid-eighteenth through the mid-twentieth century, and number nearly six hundred portraits by more than 150 artists. Alongside works by such masters as John Singleton Copley, Charles Willson Peale, and Sarah Goodridge are gems by lesser-known practitioners. Readers will also discover miniature by artists more famous in other fields—such as Robert Fulton of steamboat fame, the inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, and George Catlin, painter of Native Americans. Women are very well represented, with pieces ranging from those by Mary Roberts, the first known female miniaturist in America, to works by twentieth-century painters. The sitters include presidents and statesmen but also many less public figures, as well as those who look out at us from earlier centuries but whose identities remain unknown.
Originally made to be worn or carried, portrait miniatures—at times less than an inch high—are inextricably tied to their function as mementos, love tokens, and reliquaries. They portray husbands, wives, lovers, and children, the living and the dead, and commemorate births, deaths, and marriages or seal illicit love affairs.
American Portrait Miniatures also provides an in depth survey of the mounts that are integral to the precious objects they house. As Colonial artists began painting portrait miniatures in the early eighteenth century, the demand for this casework was met by both overseas and American master silversmiths and jewelers, as evident in the work here displayed. To the connoisseur as to the newcomer to the field, American Portrait Miniatures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers a singularly rich panorama of a subject intimately woven into the fabric of American life.