Eye portrait miniatures are extremely rare, desirable and expensive. Once an item becomes collected and expensive, fakes start to turn up. Eye miniatures (also called Lover’s Eyes, Loving Eyes, or Georgian Eyes) are no exception. Buyers should beware of fakes and take great care in buying these extremely rare and valuable pieces. How can you tell whether an eye miniature is faked? Well, it is extremely difficult considering that many of the fakes are antique portrait miniatures that have been cut down for the eye only and set into an antique brooch setting. One almost needs to have the eye portrait removed from the brooch setting to see how the edges were cut, but opening antique jewelry casings should only be attempted by a well-trained conservator and I don’t recommend it unless it is necessary. But, some things you can look for are whether the casing has already been opened. Is the gold surround bent, indicating that someone other than a trained conservator might have opened and closed it back? A bent surround does not mean the piece is absolutely faked, but it should put a buyer on notice to look very closely.
Another aspect to look at when you are appraising whether an eye is genuine is whether you can see the cut edges while the piece sits inside the jewelry case and whether those edges look original to the piece. A professional portrait miniaturist would not have left rough, uneven edges of the ivory base showing. No ifs, ands, or buts about this aspect. No professional would have sold a piece in the 18th or 19th centuries in this condition. The photo at the left is a good example of this aspect of faked lover’s eyes. The edges of the ivory do not meet the edges of the jewelry casing. The ivory is not even cut down in the same shape as the jewelry setting. Further, the miniature includes one tiny part of the nose–only a nostril which gives this sitter a rather piggish look. This eye miniature appears to have been cut down from a full face portrait miniature. It was offered on ebay for an opening bid of $850. No one bid on it, so the seller relisted it with a “Buy It Now” price of $850 with a “Make an Offer” tab. Someone bought the piece for $550.
Also consider whether the eye miniature looks like something that would have been painted as an eye miniature. Eye miniatures were generally painted as a “lover’s eye”, or as a token for a loved one to be able to look at the eye in secret and feel as if his or her lover was gazing right at the viewer. The eye miniature at the right shows both eyes which either makes the piece very unusual, even for a rare form of art, or very suspicious. It also shows the woman gazing off to her proper left, not at the viewer. These signs do not mean that it is positively a fake, but should put prospective buyers on notice that it might be faked. I certainly would not recommend buying such a piece with only photos on the internet and from anyone other than a dealer of high integrity that will refund the buyer’s money if it turns out to be faked. This piece sold on ebay for 396 GB or approximately $616 US. Note that both sell prices for a real lover’s eye would be extremely low. Both sell prices indicate that viewers did not trust the authenticity of these pieces.
To the left is a lover’s eye that is currently offered on ebay. Note that you can see jagged cut edges of the ivory around the edge of the piece. I’ve already discussed this issue above. Another aspect about this piece is make a prospective buyer wary is that the painting is a woman’s eye, but it is set into a mourning ring inscribed with the name and death date of a man. As yourself whether this would have been made this way. It just doesn’t appear to be “right” to me. As I write this blog today, the ebay listing has 7 bids on it. The current bid is 227.99 GB or approximately $355 US. Update, theis ring sold on ebay for 1827 GB or approximately $2844.64 US. This price is still extremely low if seasoned collectors or dealers believed it to be real. It is, however, a big price to pay for a faked piece.
The point in this article is that there are a few genuine lover’s eyes that occasionally come on the market. But there are more fakes that come on the market and sometimes sell for big bucks. Beware, ask questions, think about how all the aspects of any particular piece fit together, and don’t buy it unless you know the person selling will take it back if it is a fake.
Dana asks, “There are sellers who claim they are using antique lockets and adding their own hand painted oil eyes to make affordable pieces. The one I bought doesn’t show brush work but looks as if they were cut out of a printed painting photograph. How can I tell if I am getting a quality painting rather than a photo?”
Peggy responds, Dana, you should be able to see the brushstrokes and graining of the ivory under a loupe. A lot of older photo-reproductions are printed on a dot matrix and you can see the dots under a loupe. When you look at the “painting” under a loupe, if you see shiny paper, it is most likely a photo-reproduction. If at all possible, inspect the piece with magnification before you buy. If you are buying online, make sure you have some defined period of time during which you can return the item after you receive it. Inspect it as soon as it arrives and contact the seller immediately if you have any suspicions about the authenticity of the piece. Bottom line is still, when buying something that you do not have a strong basis of knowledge, buy only from reputable dealers who will honor their representations about a piece.
iananthonyharris comments, “The setting edge holding the glass in place over an ‘eye’ or any other content – often hair – is extremely finely finished, and it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to open it up, remove and replace the glass and close up the setting again, without it being obvious. All other remarks equally apply. The class of people that would have bought or commissioned these rings would not have accepted a less than perfect job-no visible edges, for example. You would n’t find an ‘eye’ in a mourning ring anyway, but I’d love to know why the one shown is a woman’s!”
Peggy responds, The setting has obviously been tampered with on the ring. I have miniature portraits opened for conservation and a professional can replace the setting with minimal indications. There are some known eye portraits in rings although I agree that it would not be likely to find an eye in a mourning piece. The eye in the ring looks like very feminine to me, but I could be wrong–there is no idenication of hairstyle to confirm the gender.