The Mary A. McNeill Bequest of Silhouettes and Miniatures.
1st – 31st January 2008
The Gallery’s annual Turner exhibition was complemented in 2008 by an exciting display of seventeenth-, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century silhouettes and miniature portraits - a beautiful collection bequeathed to the Gallery in 1985 by Belfast-born Mary A. McNeill, who was a notable collector and historian.
Miniatures were a precursor to photography; people would keep a tiny likeness of a loved one in a locket or pocket-sized frame. Many miniaturists came from a goldsmithing or other craft background. Henry Bone (1755-1843), whose enamel-on-copper miniature of then Lord High Treasurer of Ireland William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire (1748-1811) was included in the exhibition, started his career in a factory, decorating china.
In the late seventeenth century, it became the fashion for gentleman to paint miniatures -for example, the poet, lawyer and academic Thomas Flatman (1635-1688), whose Captain Robert Bransby RN was painted in watercolour on vellum. In the eighteenth century, formally trained artists such as John Smart (1741/43-1811) and Richard Crosse (1742-1810) brought a new standard of education and quality to miniature painting. One such example is Crosse's portrait of Mrs John Harrison (d.1803), painted in watercolour on ivory. When photography came into vogue around 1850 it effectively brought about the demise of the miniature.
The Mary A. McNeill Bequest of Silhouettes & Miniatures
Editor Niamh MacNally
© 2008 National Gallery of Ireland