13 March 2012
The Picture What I Did Not Buy
Yesterday I did something I'd not done for quite a while - I went to a pre-sale viewing for an auction. Chiswick Auctions had used this painting of a child to publicise the fact that in future their online catalogue would have a photographic image to accompany every lot, and the painting itself was in this week's sale. While I'd quite like a fiver for every child portrait I've ever looked at in the course of my museum work, this one struck me as unusual.
The gender of the child, for one thing: to the modern eye, this is clearly a female, what with the dress, the curls and the floral wreath, but I rather think this is a boy, remembering that boys under the age of five or six wore dresses at this date, and taking into account the bare knees, the shortness of the garment and the slightly tousled hair. What's more, I think it may even be an American boy. The neckline/ dress construction is one I associate with American portraits, and it has the clarity of colours characteristic of many of the American naive artists. Then the wreath is bound with ribbons apparently inscribed with the names of characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet, for no very obvious reason - unless this child's name is also Hamlet?
I'd say the portrait is early nineteenth century, 1805 or so, but it was hard to tell, as it is no longer in original condition, having been cleaned and re-lined - which is why in the end I decided not to bid for it. It was fun going and looking, though, especially to see all the other toot, I mean lots, in the sale: plenty of large and ornate pieces of furniture, including three partner desks; a stuffed pheasant (allegedly); boxes made to look like enormous books; a collection of repro dolls in da-glo sateens and gold braid; and a table whose top had been made from a framed sampler, as you do...
(photos by Keith Marshall)