Portrait Miniatures

Our upcoming Fine Jewellery sale on the 13th April 2023 displays a wonderful selection of portrait miniatures. In particular, Lots 390 and 661 are stunning examples circa 1800.

The Life of Philip Jean

Lot 390 is attributed to the British miniaturist Philip Jean (1755-1802). Jean’s career first began in the English Royal Navy, before moving into painting, which he then devoted his life to. Several of his works are housed in extremely influential museums such as The Met in New York, as well as the V&A and National Portrait Gallery in London. As notable portrait artist, he was commissioned by the Royal Family to paint miniatures of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. However, he was not limited to the small scale and completed full length oil portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte. Jean exhibited in the Royal Academy from 1787 till his death in 1802. He had several children and his son, Roger, went on to follow in his father’s footsteps and became a miniaturist as well.

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Jean at Auction

While the sitter for Lot 390 is unknown, her charming appearance is undeniable. The portrait is typical of Jean, the light shades of blues, wispy brushstrokes as well as the playful look on her face are all reminiscent of his work and stylistic choices. The subject is defined by her the soft colours in her powdered hair, and careful folds in her dress. Around her neck the viewer can see a delicately created amber necklace, which brings life to the piece as it highlights the careful pattern in her head scarf, the detailing on her dress, and the deep brown of her eyes. The subject has an endearing and ethereal quality to her, and this piece would be a fantastic edition to any collection.

This lot is currently estimated at £800 – £1200.

Nicholas Freese and His Work

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The next is Lot 661. Attributed to Nicholas Freese, a British painter known best for his portrait miniatures, dating back to 1794. A local artist, Freese was born in Birmingham around 1761, but moved to London as a young adult. He exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1794 and 1814. His work features in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridges. The son of a German father and an English mother, Freese was one of six children. Freese’s father, Nicholas snr., was a merchant based in the centre of Birmingham on New Street. Nicholas jr. married his wife, Mary, in 1791 and together they had two children. Their daughter, also named Mary, became an actor, and later married into the famous Kemble family of thespians.

Freese at Auction

Lot 661 depicts a young woman and is backed with delicate hairwork. Painted in watercolour and in a gilt frame, the portrait is an appealing piece that demonstrates the artist’s impressive abilities. Thanks to an inscription on the back of the portrait, the sitter is identifiable as Rebecca Johnson. Her porcelain skin is atypical of Freese’s works, whose subjects usually have rosy-cheeks. The figure’s pale appearance contrasts with the gentle blue gradient of her backdrop while her light blue, almond-shaped eyes bring life to her more vacant expression.

She is presented as a modest figure, lacking in jewellery, and wearing a simple white dress. Simplicity is a common trend within Freese’s portraits of women, with the sitters being lightly adorned in unassuming clothing and few ornaments. Significant attention has been paid to the hair of the subject. The playful curls at the front held together by a tight bun give the figure an individual identity.

It is currently in our Fine Jewellery auction estimated at £600 – £800.

Auction Details

Fine Jewellery – Thursday 13th April 2023

Viewing Days:


Tuesday 4th April 12:00 – 19:00

Wednesday 5th April 9:00 – 13:00


Tuesday 11th April 10:00 – 16:00

Wednesday 12th April 10:00 – 16:00

Thursday 13th April 8:30 – 10:00

(Photo ID is required)

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Our valuations are free, with no obligation to sell with us. Our experts will value your item with an estimate, so you can find out what it could achieve at auction.

The process is simple. You can fill in a form online or book an appointment to visit either of our offices in Birmingham or London. Virtual valuation appointments are also available.

Cordelia Porter | BA (Hons), MRes & Nathan Boot | BA (Hons), MA (Hons)

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