Miniature portrait collection to go on display at Kenwood
- Credit: English Heritage
An "important" collection of portrait miniatures will go on permanent display at Kenwood House this summer.
The Lady Cohen Collection, featuring 65 miniatures by some of the foremost artists of the 18th and 19th Centuries, was given to English Heritage via Art's Council England's Cultural Gift scheme.
In an age before photography, these portable likenesses served as intimate tokens of love and friendship or as reminders of those lost or absent.
Donor Bryony Cohen said: “I'm thrilled that my miniatures will be kept together at Kenwood, very much my first choice to house the collection. They complement those they have – in fact, a miniature I sold (and shouldn't have!) is already on display.”
Louise Cooling, English Heritage’s curator at Kenwood, said the collection, currently undergoing conservation, is of outstanding art historical importance. Mostly watercolour on ivory, the miniatures include a double portrait of Mrs Wadham Wyndham and her sister Miss Slade by Andrew Robertson, a late miniature by Jeremiah Meyer, and a work by the last great Scottish miniaturist Robert Thorburn (1818-1885).
“At one time, miniatures would have played an important role in the lives of the people who called Kenwood home," she said. "This history of portrait miniatures at Kenwood makes it the perfect place for the Lady Cohen Collection."
She appealed for anyone with portraits of former Kenwood residents to get in touch. Although the heyday of the portrait miniature coincides with the time when Kenwood was home to the first three Earls of Mansfield and their families, the whereabouts of many of their miniatures is unknown.
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In the space of eight years the 1st Earl William Murray, commissioned 13 miniature copies of his portrait by Joshua Reynolds, an inventory in 1831 records 21 miniatures of the Countess of Mansfield's sitting room alone, and Frederica, the third countess, was known to have numerous miniatures of family and friends.
Cooling believes some may survive in private collections or with the families they were given to.
“A large number of the miniatures commissioned by people who lived at Kenwood are lost, having likely been given away as gifts. We would love to track them down and see what insight they could offer into the social history of Kenwood. They may be treasured family heirlooms or gathering dust in an attic somewhere – if you think you might know their whereabouts get in touch.”