Lines and Colors art blog

Eye Candy for Today: John Carlin watercolor portrait miniature

Portrait of a Lady, John Carlin; watercolor on ivory

Portrait of a Lady, John Carlin; watercolor on ivory (detail)

Portrait of a Lady, John Carlin

Watercolor on ivory, roughly 4 x 3 inches (9 x 7 cm); in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It’s possible that this is a grayscale image of a more colorful painting — the Met’s website pages doesn’t comment — but my guess is that it was painted monochromatically.

The portrait is obviously of a real and not idealized person, and sensitively painted in that wonderful drybrush/stipple watercolor technique that was prevalent in the mid to late 19th century.

At that time, it was commonplace to paint small portraits in watercolor on ivory, often in an oval as part of a broach. In this case, the painting is rectangular, but not much larger than an oval might have been.

I find it interesting that the artist has balanced with composition with the edge of a chair and the suggestion of a room corner behind the sitter.

Portrait of a Lady, Met Museum


3 responses to “Eye Candy for Today: John Carlin watercolor portrait miniature”

  1. An extra ordinary person when/after one reads his biography.

    On the other hand, It is unlikely that the museum’s collection will grow, however, as portraits today are rarely painted on ivory, and it is increasingly difficult to acquire ivory due to laws designed to protect the endangered species who are the sources of this precious material. While the Jackson portrait was acquired before the laws limiting trade in ivory existed, the Lincoln portrait was purchased in 1975 when both the Endangered Species Act and the CITES treaty restricted trafficking in ivory. The Lincoln portrait would have qualified for the ESA antiques exemption because it was over one hundred years old. Despite these restrictions on trade in ivory, thousands of animals continue to be killed every year in order to supply commercial markets with ivory for luxury products. The United States is part of an international effort to protect endangered species and decrease the market for illegal ivory. To that end, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently published a revised version of the Endangered Species Act 4 rule for the African elephant, which further restricts most commercial imports, exports, and sales of ivory. There still exist exceptions for items with minimal amounts of ivory and for antiques but the burden of proof is high for consumers.

  2. It seems like there is a touch of stylization, the eyes are emphasized and perhaps slightly misplaced? It’s something that I have noticed in other portraits of the same era, I find it very engaging.

  3. Yes John… but I find it slightly disconcerting, almost as if there’s one larger painting superimposed over a smaller one.