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American Paintings and Sculpture
Artist: Robert Field, British, ca. 1769–1819
Subject: Benjamin Frederick Augustus Dashiell, American, 1763–1820

Benjamin Frederick Augustus Dashiell (1763-1820)


Watercolor on ivory

2 5/8 × 1 1/8 in. (6.7 × 2.9 cm)
Lelia A. and John Hill Morgan, B.A. 1893, LL.B. 1896, M.A. (Hon.) 1929, Collection

This disassembled locket by the British-born artist Robert Field illustrates the complex construction of a typical American miniature. Lockets were the most common means of housing portrait miniatures. The decorated cases of these lockets both protected the fragile parts inside and enhanced the jewel-like quality of the small painting featured within. This portrait illustrates Field’s luminous technique, in which he utilized thinner, larger pieces of ivory than most American portraitists, whose miniatures were densely painted on small ivory disks.

The front consists of three parts. First, to stabilize the thin piece of ivory that constitutes the painting’s ground, a paper card is attached to the back of the ivory disk with goldbeater’s skin, an animal membrane. Next, the portrait is painted in watercolor on a thin ivory disk. Finally, framed by a gold-over-copper bezel, a convex cover glass protects the portrait. The reverse consists of several more parts. To ensure a snug fit of all the contents, a piece of folded newspaper is packed behind the foil and decorative centerpiece. Set underneath the opal glass, an oval of magenta-toned, pressed foil enhances the opalescence of the top layer. The decorative centerpiece is composed of a hair ornament with gold wire and half-pearls mounted on opal glass. The centerpiece is protected by a small convex glass, set into a bezel. Magenta-toned, pressed foil creates a radiant effect underneath the bright blue cobalt-glass surround, which forms a frame around the centerpiece. All the pieces are held together within a rose-gold-over-copper locket.

Not on view
19th century
Miniatures - Jewelry

Robin Jaffee Frank and Katherine G. Eirk, “Miniatures under the Microscope,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (1999): 60–61, fig. 1.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.