Monday, December 01, 2014

"Little Gems"

Girl With a Red Hat Vermeer 1665-66
oil on panel 9.1 x 7.1 inches
I can’t tell you who coined the term “Little Gems” when referring to artwork. I first heard it from a professor during an outdoor watercolor class. “We call those little gems.” he tossed the words back, over his shoulder, while sauntering off down the trail. I was working on an 8 x 10 page torn from my Aquabee sketchbook.

After the Rain Private Collection Katherine Kean
watercolor on cotton rag paper 4 x 7 inches
The term goes back at least to the 19th century. James Jackson Jarves, a newspaper editor and art critic, describing Fra Bartoleomo’s works:

     "In his earlier works, which approach miniature painting in fineness and delicacy, as for instance those little gems, the “Birth” and “Circumcision” of Christ, in the Uffizi, the composition is noble and beautiful, and the finish Leonardesque. Yet they have the force of large paintings.”


 Circumcision and Nativity Fra Bartolomeo circa 1500
tempera on wood 7.7 x 3.5 inches

For artists, working on small surfaces are an opportunity to try out new ideas, colors and composition, the small size means less cost for materials and less time committed. Plus they travel well and are easy to pack and store.

Willows at Sunset Vincent van Gogh
oil on cardboard 12 1/2 x 131/2 inches

Red Poppy Georgia O'Keeffe
Although Georgia O'Keeffe became known for her large flower paintings, her earlier flower paintings were enchantingly small. She began enlarging them to attract the attention of busy New Yorkers, however small works have also been known to draw focus. Crowds lined up in New York to view Carel Fabritius's The Goldfinch.

The Goldfinch Carel Fabritius
oil on panel 13 x 9 inches
There are advantages to the collector of small works as well. The small scale is ideal for those with limited space. They are easy to install – they work well in groupings, or in those niches in home or office. Really, you can put little gems of art anywhere; on a table, a shelf, or a tiny spot on the wall or they can be displayed on a tabletop easel. They are easy to store, easy to pack, easy to ship. They are very affordable for collecting and gift giving, and there just seems to be something inherently fascinating about miniaturization.

Angeles Forest Circling Storm 
Private Collection 
Katherine Kean
oil on linen 
6 x 6 inches

View or shop from a selection of little gems here: Little Gems Collection .

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