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Monday, January 20, 2014

Before Photographs

This is a 1991 photograph of my mother, my three daughters, and my father in front of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. I am not in the photo because I took the picture. :-)We had visited the Smithsonian specifically to see an exhibit of Winslow Homer's seascapes, because Dad insisted that's what he wanted. (I am sure he saw a review of it in the NY Times first.) However, by chance, there was also an exhibit of miniature portraits, which fascinated me. I stared at the tiny paintings and marveled at the skill the artists used in creating the diminutive images of people from so long ago.

I paint in oils. I use small brushes and do very detailed work, but I work on good-sized canvases. Just viewing the itty-bitty portraits gave me eyestrain.

However, large paintings are not very portable, which is why clever artists developed miniature paintings. Artists painted these teeny little likenesses from the 16th century up until 1839, when Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre showed off his invention to the members of the French Académie des Sciences and photography was born. You can read about Daguerre (1787–1851) and the Invention of Photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website. Naturally, Daguerre named his invention after himself calling them daguerreotypes.

You no longer have to travel to Washington, D.C. to see miniature portraits. There's a great collection  online at the Cleveland Museum of Art as well as the one at the Smithsonian. I've found plenty of these treasures on Pinterest, too. I think I'll start another board of miniatures there.

In my soon-to-be-released book, Patriot's Heart, the heroine gets to see a miniature of her mother--a very small portrait which fits in the palm of her hand.

Maybe I got the inspiration for that scene at the Smithsonian back in 1991. :-)


MarkD60 said...

First there was drawing and painting, then film and printed photos. Then digital photos on a disk, now computers don't even have discs and the photos are stored online.
When we loose electricity, there will be a huge gap in human history. Decades of pictures will be lost forever.

Penelope Marzec said...


True. That's why everyone should print out a few of their best photos every now and then. :-)