18-19-century miniatures

Author —, —, —, Jean Antoine Pinchon
Title Female portrait, The Abduction of Proserpine, Female portrait, Portrait of the unknown in a blue coat
Date 18-19 c.
Material Gouache, watercolor, ivory.
Workshop Paper Сonservation

The collection of the 18th-19th century miniatures from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts includes about 430 works that have come to the museum since 1924 from the State Museum Fund, the Armory, the State Hermitage Museum and private collections. The collection is dominated by portrait miniatures, as well as mythological scenes and landscapes by Western European and Russian artists, particularly Pierre de Rossi and Augustin Ritt. The collection of miniatures from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts is notable among Moscow collections and is constantly updated through purchases and gifts.

Most of the miniatures are painted in gouache and watercolour on thin ivory plates. Such technique spread at the beginning of the 18th century in Europe and in the middle of the 18th century in Russia. The low price of the miniatures on ivory and paper in comparison with the miniatures on enamel contributed to their popularity. The nobility and the military appreciated small half-length portraits. The shape of the plates made of bone could be oval, square and octahedral; everything depended on the preferences of the customer. If at the beginning of the 18th century, the thickness of the ivory plate was 1 mm, over time it decreased to 0.5-0.3 mm making the base translucent. In order to hold the paint better, the bone was degreased with vinegar and garlic, using sandpaper to give the surface texture. Artists painted with a thin brush, creating a pattern with dotted lines or small dots. In portraits, more transparent watercolours were most often used to depict the face and hands, with foil pre-attached to the backside of the plate. Matte gouache was used to paint the background and clothes. For better preservation, miniatures were placed under the glass in a decorative frame made of bronze, wood or precious metals. Often landscape scenes and compositions on mythological subjects were decorated with various items of decorative art.

Over time, poor storage conditions, faulty mounting, the use of hard adhesives have a detrimental effect on the base of the miniatures. Bone loses elasticity and deforms, cracks appear, which subsequently leads to disintegration into parts, the connection with the paint layer breaks, peeling and losses appear.

After the collection was inspected by the curator and conservator, the workshop received 47 miniatures. The conservator' task was to restore the look of the objects, which required an individual approach to each item. Some of the miniatures needed glass replacement, dedusting, restoration of frames. In order to restore others, a more serious intervention was needed: removal of glue and varnish stains from the image, mending bone plates, glueing the fragments, tinting the scratches, losses and abrasions of the paint layer. The treatments were done together with the conservators from the Object conservation workshop.