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Wax Miniatures

 
Mary Jane (Miller) Quincy
Robert Ball Hughes
From Wax Portraits and Silhouettes Second Edition,
by Ethel Stanton Bolton

 

    From Wax Portraits and Silhouettes Second Edition, by Ethel Stanton Bolton, The Massachusetts Society of the Colonial Dames of America, Boston: 1915, pp. 23-26:
 
"In 1806 [1804], there was born in London a boy who was called Robert Ball Hughes. Very early in, life he desired to model, but being poor, had to wait until he had collected enough candle ends to make his first attempt. Similar stories doubtless are told of many other sculptors, too, but be that as it may, Ball Hughes finally won a medal at the Royal Academy for the best copy of a bas-relief of the Apollo Belvidere [sic]. Later he again succeeded with a bust of George the Fourth. In 1829, he came to New York and then to Boston, where he finally settled in Dorchester. He lived there until he died, and those who write books on sculpture wonder that in his long life he did so little. They call attention to his statue of Nathaniel Bowditch in Mount Auburn, the first bronze cast in America, and point to “Little Nell" in- the Boston Athenaeum; but they ignore the most delightful expression of his genius, which was in modelling reliefs in white wax. He worked for many years to find some formula whereby he could make a composition that would remain white, and having found it, he died with the secret untold. His waxes are most exquisite, doubly so, from their exceeding whiteness and beautiful modelling. They are mounted on velvet, but are slightly raised, so that one gets an impression of roundness and shadow. "
 
"Nowhere has he shown to greater perfection these qualities of dazzling white and delicate modelling than in the portrait of Mrs. Mary Miller Quincy, wife of the second Mayor Quincy of Boston; and nowhere does the superiority of his wax express itself more clearly than in the glow of the high lights and the blue transparency of the shadows. The Elizabeth Rodman shows greater boldness of modelling and an effective use of high relief."
 
"With Ball Hughes's death the art languished here in America; gradually the frail reliefs yielded to time, fire, and careless hands, until there are but a few cherished specimens in any city."
 
    See the rest of Bolton's text in Wax Portraits and Silhouettes available through Google Books and the Internet Archive, especially pp. 7-22, for more information about wax portraits.

 

 
Elizabeth [Rotch] Rodman
Robert Ball Hughes
From Wax Portraits and Silhouettes Second Edition,
by Ethel Stanton Bolton
 

    Pages 73-74 in
Wax Portraits and Silhouettes list nine wax portraits by Robert Ball Hughes including the two shown above and President William Henry Harrison, shown below. 

 

by Robert Ball Hughes, ca 1841
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
used with permission

 

    This is one if the few surviving examples of Ball Hughes wax portraits for which he was famous for.  It's in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) was the 9th President of the United States.
 
    Two other examples are in the Philadelphia Museum of art:  Portrait of a Boy and Portrait of Chief Justice John Marshall.

    A previously unknown wax miniature portrait of Nathaniel Ingersoll Bowditch, Jr. was sold to a private owner in early 2013. Images are temporarily available at 
Elle Shushan - Fine Portrait Miniatures. If you are the owner of this miniature, please consider giving permission for RobertBallHughes.com to display images of it on this site. Thank you.
 
    From Social Life in Old New England by Mary Caroline Crawford, Boston, Little, Brown, and Company: 1914, pp. 338 & 339 (available through Google Books and the Internet Archive):
 
"Another modeler in wax, who did portraits of many New England people, was Robert Ball Hughes, who was born in London in 1806 but lived most of his life in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Hughes's reliefs were all modeled in white wax, and he worked for many years to find a formula by means of which he could produce a composition evenly and permanently white. In his quest he was successful, but died with his secret still untold. His portraits are all very delicately modeled, a particularly beautiful example of his best work being the portrait of Mrs. Mary Miller Quincy, wife of the second Mayor Quincy of Boston, now in the possession of Mrs. Mary Quincy Thorndike of Boston."
 
See also pp. 336-338 for more information about wax miniatures.
 
    Note that the Foreward to this book on p. v is also worth reading about Americans interest in the lives of those who built this country.
 
    From Sculpture in America by Wayne Craven. Newark, University of Delaware Press: 1968 & 1984, p. 30:
 
"Unquestionably one of the most gifted fashioners of cameo portraits was Robert Ball Hughes, whose major works are discussed in detail in the next chapter. By the time Hughes arrived in this country (I829) he had already received training at the Royal Academy. Several of his wax portraits reveal the English neoclassicism which had been established by John Flaxman--as may be seen in the wax-relief head of Robert C. Winthrop in the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. The special qualities of Hughes' little portraits are his mastery of modeling and anatomy, and the pure whiteness of his wax. Although he is much better known today for his larger works, he was the finest modeler of wax profiles in the second quarter of the 19th century anywhere in the country. But with the arrival of the photographic image in the 1840's, the peripheral forms of portraiture--wax cameos, painted miniatures, and cut silhouettes--fell by the wayside."
 
    See also Wax Miniatures by J.P. in "The Philadelphia Museum Bulletin", Vol. 42, No. 213, Mar. 1947, pp. 51-65?, Philadelphia Museum of Art (available through JSTOR at most university libraries).
 
    Wax portraits gradually went out of vogue following the invention of the Daguerreotype photography process in France in 1839.
 
    See the extensive Miniature Portrait Art Collection of 17th-20th century American, British, and European artists by a collector in New Zealand.

Portrait Miniatures by Marion Laffey Fox, Southern Accents, September-October 2007.

How America Found her Face: Portrait Miniatures in the New Republic by Elle Shushan, The Magazine Antiques, April, 2009.

 
last update 5/11/2013
 
For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2013

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