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WHY THIS? Miniature Watercolor Portrait

Though small, this spirited portrait from the English Regency period (circa 1811-1820) captivated us immediately when we spotted it among the collection of art and antiques from the estate of a distinguished Staten Island, NY, family.

Attributed to Lady Anne Phyllis Beechey (1764 -1833) and said to be the likeness of the son of Paul Sandby, the father of English landscape painting, the artist’s accomplishment and the sitter’s good looks are self-evident. But we decided to acquire the picture and offer it in our Fine Art Collection because of its provenance.

“Provenance.” It is a familiar word in the language of arts and antiques, and it is often a key factor in determining the value of an object. But what does it mean and why is it so important?

Simply defined, provenance is a documented or circumstantial record of ownership. Sometimes, if a work of art lacks a signature or date or questions arise about its artistic merit, confidence in the historical record, which often involves detective work, may help to establish that a work of art is not a forgery, a reproduction, or a stolen item.

    To establish a good provenance for our miniature, we considered the following:

    • Family history gave us confidence we could accept the likelihood that the picture had been in their possession since the 1920s.
    • Examination of  the back of the picture revealed hand-written documentation dated 1877, attesting to the authenticity of the painter and subject.
    • When the outer frame was opened to clean the glass, we discovered the name of the sitter in pencil on the rear of the picture itself. 
    • Research confirmed that the artist and the sitter were well acquainted professionally and socially.
    • Research also confirmed that the style of the portrait comported with other examples of the artist’s work.

        Of course, an original bill of sale or unbroken testamentary record usually provides the most definitive evidence of authenticity. Lacking those, however, we can use the above factors to give us sufficient confidence to attribute the work to Lady Beechey.   

        Check into our next blog to learn more about provenance, what to look for in determining authenticity and a few simple steps you can take to increase the value of your antiques by establishing a good provenance. 

        If you’ve looked into the provenance of a favorite discovery or family treasure, let us know on Facebook, Instagram, or in the comments below.

        1 comment

        • I’m curious…would the fact that it appears to be painted by a noble woman around 1800 not increase its current value?

          Gretchen Dykstra

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