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Golden Age of miniatures collected by art world expert for sale at Bonhams
Richard Allen was an admired and respected figure in the auction world. He developed his expertise and passion for portrait miniatures during a distinguished career that spanned over a quarter of a century. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Bonhams announced the sale of The Richard Allen Collection of Fine Portrait Miniatures, which will take place at Bonhams, Knightsbridge on 21st May at 1pm.

Richard Allen was an admired and respected figure in the auction world. He developed his expertise and passion for portrait miniatures during a distinguished career that spanned over a quarter of a century. Richard celebrated 25 years in the business while at Sotheby's, 18 of which were heavily invested in his role as a Board Director in addition to his work with the Portrait Miniatures department. Richard later returned to his native Shrophire where, in 1992, he was offered directorship at Halls Fine Art Auctioneers. He went on to develop and expand the fine art department at Halls where he also continued to specialize in portrait miniatures. Richard could also be seen regularly at all of the London auctions in his capacity as advisor to the American collector, Charles Fleischmann, whose collection can now be admired in the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Formed over several decades, The Richard Allen Collection consists of 73 lots and features the work of some of the most sought after masters of the art form, including, Jean Baptiste Jacques Augustin, Richard Cosway and John Smart. The 18th – 20th centuries are all represented but the Collection is predominantly concentrated on the period between 1780–1820, named by Richard’s friend, mentor and fellow enthusiast, Daphne Foskett (1911-1998), as “The Heyday of Miniature Painting” in her book ‘Collecting Miniatures’ (1979). In the chapter of this title, Mrs Foskett singles out eight artists: Richard Cosway, John Smart, George Engleheart, Andrew Plimer, Jeremiah Meyer, Richard Crosse, Ozias Humphry, George Chinnery and William Wood, whom she believed to be the greatest exponents of the art of portrait miniature painting. The collection features twenty one pieces by these exceptional artists - a third of the collection - underlining Richard’s outstanding taste.

It goes without saying that Richard’s death in a road accident in July 2006 at the age of just 56 was a tragedy for his family and for all whose lives he touched, as his fellow Halls’ Director and friend, Jeremy Lamond said at the time, “Richard was not just well-known for his expertise at Halls and across Shropshire, he was also the life and soul of any party.”

Highlights in the sale include an octagonal portrait miniature of Louis XVIII (1755-1824) by Jean Baptiste Jacques Augustin valued at £15,000-20,000, a rare and enchanting double-portrait of 'The Beauvais Boys' by William Wood and an oval miniature portraying Isabella Perceval, Countess of Egmont by John Smart, expected to realise £10,000-15,000 each.

The most expensive lot in the sale is Augustin’s portrait of Louis XVIII, who ruled as King of France and Navarre between 1814-1824. Valued at £15,000-20,000, its gilt-metal frame displays a pierced border of circular-cut sapphires and approximately 1.10 carats of single brilliant-cut diamonds to the obverse. Prior to his accession to the throne, Louis XVIII (affectionately known as 'Le Désiré' to his supporters) had spent twenty-three years in exile during the French Revolution and the reign of the First French Empire. Augustin was a favoured subject and in 1819, Louis XVIII appointed him 'peintre en miniature et en émail de la chambre et du cabinet du roi’ (miniature painter and enamellist of the chamber and the king's cabinet) and 'premier peintre en miniature' (chief miniature painter) in 1824.

The sale also features examples from the most desirable of British miniaturists, including three skilled portraits by the Suffolk artist, William Wood (1769-1810). A stellar example is his portrayal of two brothers, Lewis and Alexander Beauvais, aged 5 and 4 years respectively in matching outfits (est. £10,000-15,000), Lewis with his hand protectively on Alexander’s shoulder.

Richard Cosway, R.A. (1742-1821) is one of the best known of William Wood’s contemporaries; his portrait of a Lady, valued at £8,000-12,000, is a particularly fine example of his elegant and fluid style. Three portraits by another great, John Smart (British, 1742-1811), portraying ‘A Gentleman’, ‘The Hon. Mrs Baldwin’ and Isabella Perceval née Paulett, Countess of Egmont (d.1821) are each estimated to attract £10,000-15,000.

Bernard Lens’ copy of Sir Anthony van Dyck’s final self-portrait of 1640 (valued at £1,500-2,500) is sure to turn heads throughout the art world. The original self-portrait by Van Dyck is of huge national importance, being, as it is, one of only three self-portraits known to have been painted by Van Dyck while in Britain. The painting dates from the very end of Van Dyck's life and presents a direct, intimate image of an artist at work. He shows himself fashionably dressed but apparently in the act of painting, the line of his right shoulder and sleeve suggesting his hand is applying paint to a canvas just out of sight. Van Dyck's self-portrait is currently subject to an extended export bar. In order to secure the work for the nation, the Art Fund and the National Portrait Gallery in London have until 20 July to raise £10 million, reduced from the £12.5 million originally paid for the portrait by an overseas buyer (correct at the time of going to press). Bernard Lens (British, 1682-1740) is known to have frequently produced miniature copies of full-scale oil portraits by Van Dyck, Dahl, Kneller and Lely amongst others.

Jennifer Tonkin, Head of Portrait Miniatures at Bonhams says: “We feel extremely privileged and very proud to be offering The Richard Allen Collection of Fine Portrait Miniatures at auction on 21st May. Having been a prominent and respected figure in the portrait miniatures world throughout his distinguished career in the auction business, it’s been a very humbling experience cataloguing and researching Richard Allen’s Collection. Private collectors and members of the trade alike have shared many fond memories of Richard with us and he is clearly missed. This is a unique opportunity for collectors to discover and engage with the personal collecting tastes of an auction house expert, who for so long shared his knowledge and passion for the art form with so many.”

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