Staigg, Richard Morrell - portrait of a man

This miniature portrait is unsigned but has been attributed to Richard Morrell Staigg (1817-1881) who worked in Boston and New York.

Staigg was a successful artist who in the 1870 census, could still describe his occupation as "Portrait Painter" despite the competition from photography and disclose assets of $6500. However, he had switched to large oil portraits and landscapes around 1860. He again described himself as portrait painter in the 1880 census and the family still had two servants at that time.

The miniature is very unusual in that it is painted on a sheet of fine paper glued to a very thin wooden board, only about two millimetres thick.

In the whole of this collection there are only two other miniatures painted on such a base. They are a pair by a French artist. In all three instances, the grain of the fine paper when glued to board and painted in oils, almost gives the impression of very fine canvas.

The reverse of the miniature has a short inscription, which unfortunately does not give the name of the artist or the sitter. It reads "Painted Dec'br 1845". However, even a date is valuable information as it assists in two ways. Firstly, it gives a date to specific clothes styles which can be used to date other miniatures. Secondly, as in this case it assists with an attribution, in that a date narrows down possible attributions to artists who were working in a given place at a particular point in time.

The reasons for attributing this portrait to Staigg are similar to those for attributing another miniature to him, which was acquired earlier this year, see Staigg, Richard Morrell - portrait of Colonel Will... A close up of that miniature is shown here for comparison. The way of painting the hair is the same, as are the colours used for the facial features, the different tones being a result of one being painted on ivory and the other on board. There are other similarities, e.g. both portraits also have a tiny touch of bright white on the tips of the collars.

Other reasons for the attribution, include the following comment by Johnson; "Staigg's mature palette is a medley of luminous pastel hues for the flesh and rich, deep tones in the clothing and background. His miniatures have the richness of small oil paintings."

That is very much the case with this miniature, which is actually only 100 mm x 80 mm, but looks from the image here, as if it could easily be 100 cm x 80 cm (40 in x 32 in).

Johnson further comments; "Miniatures (by Staigg) from the late 1830's to the mid-forties are rectangular and are signed on the backing paper; later works are larger and oval in shape".

In addition this new miniature was acquired from Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, which is less than 100 miles from Boston, where Staigg was working between 1841-1852, and 1845 is right in the middle of this period.

The reasons for the miniature being on board are uncertain, but there are several possible factors. The date of 1845 was a time when strong competition was felt from photography, which was introduced in 1840. Thus Staigg may have been experimenting with lower cost materials at about the same time as he switched from a rectangular to an oval format. Alternatively, there may have been a shortage of ivory at the time, or it may even be a study for a large oil, as he did also paint large portraits.

The sitter is unknown. 1264

No comments: