Micropainting: The Portrait Miniature

July 10 through December 22, 2002

An exquisite collection of palm-size European portraits on public display for the first time

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is pleased to present MicroPainting: The Portrait Miniature, an exhibition of nearly fifty ornate, miniature portrait paintings dating from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. The miniatures, which feature such prominent subjects as Queen Elizabeth I and Napoleon Bonaparte, are from the collection of Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who founded the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley in 1901. Mrs. Hearst was part of a generation of American collectors - including J.P. Morgan, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and Samuel H. Kress - who were responsible for introducing the art of Europe to the American public. MicroPainting features a selection of the finest works from Mrs. Hearst's collection of miniatures, and provides a fascinating insight into this once-hugely popular medium while shedding light on the tastes and trends of late-nineteenth art collectors.

The first surviving portrait miniatures date from the time of Henry VIII. Miniature painting has its roots in the tradition of manuscript illumination, and takes its name from "minimum," the Latin word for red lead, or vermilion, a pigment used to paint the ornate and often intricately detailed opening letters in illuminated manuscripts. Portrait miniature painting began to flourish throughout Europe in the sixteenth century. The first examples were painted in watercolor on stretched vellum, but after the eighteenth century miniatures were also painted on ivory and enamel.

As small in size as 1-1/2 x 1-1/4 inches, portrait miniatures were used as personal mementos or as jewelry, wall ornaments, or snuff box covers. MicroPainting includes examples of the craft from England, France, Germany and Poland. Some of the works feature small arrangements of the sitter's hair on the portrait's reverse side, emphasizing the object's function as an intimate souvenir. Among the works on view are also a number of later copies of original works, reflecting the appeal of these object for the tastemakers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Missouri-born Phoebe Apperson Hearst (1842 – 1919) married businessman and politician George Hearst and moved with him to California in 1863. During her lifetime Mrs. Hearst pursued her passion for collecting during frequent and extensive travels in Europe. Her primary interest as a collector was in anthropology and archaeology. Her collection of portrait miniatures was bequeathed to the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology in 1909 and has never been seen publicly until now.

Please note: a selection of images from this exhibition is available as electronic files or slides. Please contact Rod Macneil at (510) 643-6494 or

Public programs
Panel: "The Subjects in Question: Portrait Miniatures Rediscovered"
Gray Brechin, cultural historian; Elle Shushan, private dealer in European portrait miniatures; and Alla Efimova, BAM/PFA Associate Curator
Thursday, October 24, 7 p.m.
Museum Theater
They are not just mini-portraits. They are not always what they seem. They were greatly sought after by American collectors. They were hiding for a century in a museum of anthropology. Three panelists rediscover portrait miniatures in the Phoebe Apperson Hearst collection and make sense of their intriguing story.

Gallery Talks
Alla Efimova, Associate Curator
Sunday, July 14, 3 p.m.
Sunday, August 25, 3 p.m.
Gallery 4
Does size matter? Alla Efimova ponders the philosophy of scale in MicroPainting.

Guided Tours
Graduate students from UC Berkeley's History of Art department will offer exhibition tours on selected Thursdays at 12:15 and 5:30 p.m. and selected Sundays at 2 p.m. throughout the fall semester. Call (510) 642-0808 for details.

Posted by admin on July 10, 2002