In early America and western Europe, portrait miniatures were intimate keepsakes given by the sitter to a loved one to convey their affection and to represent their bond. Miniatures were often commissioned to mark important milestones in life, including marriage, long absences and death. During the American Revolution, soldiers and their families sat for and presented portrait miniatures as a reminder of their loved ones in an uncertain time. Miniatures painted in the decades that followed portray the Revolution’s participants in later years, whether as civilians in the new republic or officers continuing in service in the military.

More than forty portrait miniatures are preserved in the Institute’s collections, picturing American, French and British soldiers of the Revolution, as well as their wives and children. The small but detailed paintings—just a few inches tall—provide highly accurate portrayals of these individuals and the military uniforms that are often depicted. Miniatures by prominent artists such as James and Charles Willson Peale, John Ramage, Charles Fraser and Jean-Baptiste Isabey are included in the collections. Others were painted by itinerant artists whose names have not yet been identified.

Read more about the portrait miniature of William Henry Bruce of Maryland, painted during the Revolution by Charles Willson Peale, in our in-depth article in Masterpieces in Detail.

To learn more about the conservation of two portrait miniatures—of First Lieutenant William Truman Stoddert of Maryland and Colonel George Baylor of Virginia, both painted by Charles Willson Peale—read our feature on the project in Conservation.