Sheldon Museum of Art


Date of this Version



Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, August 10, 1987- July 20, 1988


All images are copyright by the original artists. Publication copyright 1988 The Regents of the University of Nebraska


Miniature does not merely mean small. When applied to painting, the term "miniature" conveys art historical and psychological meanings of greater import than simple dimensions may indicate. "Miniature Masterworks" offers a diverse group of undersized paintings which are related by virtue of their size, but which reveal larger issues pertinent to the history of twentieth century art.

While artists have used the miniature format throughout the history of art, the tradition of small scale paintings was rather recently reestablished in America, via the French. In part as a reaction to large, Neoclassical paintings commissioned by grand patrons, and depicting ideal themes, plein Aire painters and the Impressionists of the 1880s adopted the use of moderate·sized canvases for their depictions of everyday reality and natural phenomena. Smaller canvases also satisfied the artist's practial need to transport the paintings while working outdoors. By the early twentieth century, American collectors were actively importing Impressionism, and thereby transforming American taste from the large, nineteenth century academic style to the more personal observations of independent artists. Cross-cultural influences were immediately evident, as American artists adopted and interpreted the French Impressionist style.

Concurrent with this art historical evolution was a socio-economic change following the Industrial revolution. The rise of the American middle class and their new access to fine art made the Impressionists' reduced format appropriate for informal settings in smaller houses. The smaller scale also reflected a rejection of Victorian social hiearchies and new possibilities for an approachable art. This preference for smaller paintings prevailed through the first half of the century, until the late 1940s, when the Abstract Expressionists revolutionized the concept of the painting field, expanding it to make room for their bodies as well as their minds. Such a radical reevaluation of scale effected the viewer as well as the artist