MINNEAPOLIS, MAY 6, 2014–This summer, a unique exhibition featuring hand-painted miniature portraits of individual eyes is on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). These unusual and exquisitely crafted objects, including jewelry and accessories, date from the late 18th-through early 19th century England. A trend that began with Britain’s Prince of Wales (later George IV) and his mistress Maria Fitzherbert, clandestine lovers exchanged these customized tokens depicting one another’s eyes, recognizable only to intimates. “The Look of Love” presents a rare opportunity to see 98 exceptional examples of these deeply personal artworks, all from the Skier collection–considered to be the largest collection of its kind.
Finely crafted in miniature and set in exquisite forms, both decorative and functional, each tiny eye portrait harbors enchanting stories of secret romance and love lost. Lavishly adorned with jewels, the portraits are set into brooches, rings, lockets, pendants, small boxes, and toothpick cases.
Fewer than a 1,000 “lover’s eyes” are thought to exist today. The largest single collection belongs to the Skiers of Birmingham, Alabama. David Skier, an eye surgeon, and his wife, Nan, have been collecting eye miniatures since 1993.
The exhibition is accompanied by a full color, hardbound catalogue of the same name, edited by Dr. Graham C. Boettcher, The William Cary Hulsey Curator of American Art, and published by D Giles Ltd., London. An essay by Elle Shushan sets the historical scene and examines the role of lover’s eyes in the broader context of Georgian and early Victorian portrait miniatures. Boettcher looks at the language and symbolism of these tokens and their jeweled settings. Available in the museum Store for $35.
“The Look of Love: Miniatures from the Skier Collection” is organized by the Birmingham Museum of Art.