This was my first ever visit to Birmingham and thus my first taste of the delicious museum of art, which we began with luncheon at Oscar's Restaurant (delicious, indeed!) before approaching our target: The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection.
The museum was filled with children. probably school tours, and they seemed particularly attracted to the museum shop, like all kids everywhere, seeking a memento of their visit.
I had read about the exhibition on line in articles published all over (see Jo Manning's piece here), and in the catalogue, which absorbed my attention cover to cover. Even if you are not fortunate enough to make your way to Birmingham before June 10, this catalogue will give you an excellent view of all the pieces accompanied by several scholarly articles and Jo Manning's delightful fictional vignettes.
Nan Skier and Victoria at the exhibition
The very tiny objects, from as small as less than half a square inch to a wallet containing both a lover's eye and miniature of a hand, and a tea cup decorated with an eye, are exhibited in a darkened room in handsome cases and vitrines under pinpoints of light. Thus my pictures are both dark and a little blurry since they are enlarged quite a bit. The better pictures here are the official pictures by the professional photographer Sean Pathashema.
Above is one of the cases on which the Lover's Eyes are displayed with descriptions below. Though it might be hard to photograph, the layout is very effective in presenting the delicate objects in the best possible manner.
Gold oval pendant surrounded by seed pearls, ca. 1830. Brown right eye with clouds
1 7/8 (with hanger) x 1 3/8 x 1/4 in.
|gold teardrop-shaped brooch surrounded by split pearls, ca. 1790; Blue right eye.|
3/4 x 1 1/4 x 1/4 in.
The Lover's Eyes in the Skier Collection are all similar -- yet no two are alike. Most of them are worn as jewelry -- rings, pendants, bracelets, e.g.
Bracelet surmounted with miniature in gold surround with drop pearl;
Plaited hairwork on reverse;
Restrung with four strands of cultured pearls; Gray right eye.
1 5/8 x 2 x 1/4 in. (surround only)
Many are set with precious stones: there are examples of pearls, diamonds, garnets, coral and turquoise, among others.
Yellow gold brooch with border of thirty-two natural oriental half pearls in a floral motif
with eight small turquoise stones;
oval locket back with woven brown hair under glass, c. 1820
brown right eye; 1 x 1 1/8 x 1/4 in.
Rose gold oval brooch surrounded by double asymmetrical rows of seed pearls;
suggestion of cloud border; convex backing with Prince of Wales hair plumes;
brown right eye; 1 x 1 1/4 x 1/4 in.
Heart shaped gold ring with Hessonite garnet surround
crowned with a flower and ribbon motif, c. 1790. Blue right eye.
on reverse of ivory lozenge is a sepia and embroidered hairwork image depicting interlocking hearts
in front of an oak. 15/16 x 5/8 x 7/8 in.
Every one of these objects must have a story -- of love or of loss. But few can be identified by either sitter or artist. History has made them unknown, and this gives a particularly poignant and mysterious twist to the exhibition. In a brilliant move, however, the catalogue contains several fictional stories -- what MIGHT have been. Jo Manning is the author and her imagination took wing. Highly recommended.
So-called "Memory Box" made of embossed and painted paper
containing eye miniature, c. 1830. Brown left eye.
1 1/8 x 1 1/4 x 5/8 in.