12:00 17 February 2022
A “significant” collection of miniature portraits will be on permanent display at Kenwood House this summer.
The Lady Cohen Collection, comprising 65 miniatures by some of the greatest artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, was donated to English Heritage through Art’s Council England’s cultural donations programme.
In an age before photography, these wearable likenesses served as intimate tokens of love and friendship or reminders of those lost or absent.
Donor Bryony Cohen said, “I am thrilled to have my miniatures kept together at Kenwood, my first choice to house the collection. They complement the ones they have – in fact, a miniature that I sold (and shouldn’t have!) is already on display.
Louise Cooling, Curator of English Heritage at Kenwood, said the collection, currently in custody, is of exceptional historical significance. Mainly in watercolor 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 a significant role in the lives of people who inhabited Kenwood,” she said. “This history of miniature portraits at Kenwood makes it the perfect place for the Lady Cohen collection.”
She called on anyone with portraits of former Kenwood residents to get in touch. Although the heyday of portrait miniature coincides with when Kenwood was home to the first three Earls of Mansfield and their families, the whereabouts of many of their miniatures are unknown.
Within eight years, the 1st Earl William Murray, commissioned 13 miniature copies of his portrait by Joshua Reynolds, an inventory in 1831 records 21 miniatures from the Countess of Mansfield’s drawing room alone, and Frederica, the third Countess, was known for having numerous miniatures of family and friends.
Cooling thinks some may survive in private collections or with the families they were given to.
“A large number of miniatures commissioned by people who lived in Kenwood are lost, having probably been given as gifts. We’d love to track them down and see what insight they might offer into Kenwood’s social history. They may be treasured heirlooms or gathering dust in an attic somewhere – if you think you know where they are, contact us.