Russell, Moses B - portrait of a young lady

This is an important miniature by Moses B Russell (1810-1884). It has an incised script signature on the right "M B Russell Pinxit" and on the reverse is also signed "Painted by M B Russell Boston 1835 (or 1836)".

It is unusual to be signed on the front and the rear, with both appearing to be genuine. The signature being incised through to the ivory base, is probably due to the artist recognising that a painted signature would not be legible on the dark background. It is also unusual to find a miniature by him at this time of a lady.

In terms of quality, it must rank as one of his very best miniatures. As with other work by him of this time, it depicts the sitter as solemn, but concentrating upon the artist in a manner that would become very familiar as photography later developed.

Russell was active for over 50 years both as a painter and as a daguerreotypist, mostly in Boston, although he did work in New York and Philadelphia in the years 1854-1861.

Johnson observes that Russell performed his best work in the ten years from 1834. It seems likely his later work was hurried in comparison, hence suffering in quality, due to the impact of photography and the need to complete miniatures quickly, to compete with the lower cost daguerreotypes which became popular after 1840.

That probably also explains the need for him to seek work in New York and Philadelphia, there not being enough in Boston. However, while in Philadelphia he would have found it difficult to compete with John Henry Brown who persevered with miniatures of the highest quality in the face of photography.

Some of Russell's later miniatures, show the influence of his wife, Clarissa Peters Russell, who is famous for her distinctive miniatures, particularly of children. It may be that he found her style quicker to produce and easier to sell against daguerreotype competition. That is a pity, as this miniature shows he was very talented, with such talent not being so obvious later in his career.

The case of this miniature is ornately carved and does not appear to be original, although still of 19C origin, perhaps it is German. Unfortunately, the sitter is unknown. 1257

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