Peter Adolf Hall (1739–93), Portrait of a Young Man, watercolour and gouache on ivory, 3.7cm x 2.9cm Sinebrychoff Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Simo Karisalo

Mementos on Display: Portrait Miniatures in the Sinebrychoffs’ Art Collection

Hilla Männikkö, MA student, University of Helsinki

This article is published following the author’s three-month research internship at the Finnish National Gallery


There are very few people who haven’t felt moved when looking at a picture of their loved one. A face, especially when belonging to someone dear, has the power to evoke a multitude of feelings: love, anger, possessiveness or heartache, to name a few. As we live in the contemporary world, this type of picture is usually a photograph. In my primary school we used to wait for the days when a photographer came to take the annual school photographs. We sat for the group picture, pictures with our friends and our portrait pictures with hair brushed and a smile elicited by the funny word. After a few weeks, the photos arrived and it was time to call on our courage and ask for a little sticker photo from our secret (or not-so-secret) crush. If we were lucky enough to obtain one, it was cherished. I stuck mine between the back of my phone and the battery to keep it always with me, but hidden from meaningful glances.

This ritual from my childhood nearly 20 years ago reminds me of portrait miniatures and their use as personal mementos across several centuries. Before the invention of photographs these items held a great sentimental value and were in active use in strengthening emotional bonds between lovers and family members. During my internship at the Finnish National Gallery I have acquainted myself with these small gems and their character.

I chose to study Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff’s collection of miniatures that is housed at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum as a part of Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff’s art collection. Today the National Gallery’s entire collection of miniatures comprises about 400 items, of which around 340 belong to the original collection by Paul and Fanny. Their original miniature collection was formed over roughly two decades – from the end of the 1880s to c. 1913 – and was then donated to the Finnish state in 1921.[1] Since the original donation the collection in the National Gallery has been increased by several further donations and purchases.

The collection of miniatures has been previously researched, but the main focus has been on basic and conservatory research on how the collection was formed and what it actually includes in terms of artists and materials.[2] Even though this work is still in progress, in this article my aim is not to make a thorough report on the collection or its developments, but rather to study it from several thematic viewpoints. First of all, I will approach a portrait miniature as an object that has a certain character. I will examine it as a material and social object and place it in the context of the Sinebrychoffs’ collecting interests. Here, I will reflect on the question of what kinds of qualities make the portrait miniature an appealing object for both the original owner and the collector. How do their experiences differ and what do they have in common?

I have approached these questions by sifting through some parts of the Finnish National Gallery Archive Collections, studying research literature on the material and social aspects of portrait miniatures and taking a closer look at Paul Sinebrychoff’s letters from equivalent viewpoints.[3] I have also had the opportunity to examine Paul’s own original catalogue of their miniatures, the catalogue of the collection made after Fanny’s donation, as well as auction catalogues from Bukowski’s auction house in Sweden. There is still a variety of archive material on the Sinebrychoff collection that would require further research in the future which could also shed light on the issues concerned in this article.

The Sinebrychoffs’ collection of miniatures contains mainly portrait miniatures but also some examples of other genres, such as mythological scenes. In my research I have concentrated on the original part of the collection collected by Paul and Fanny. From the vast amount of objects, I have chosen portrait miniatures that depict private individuals and were commissioned as personal keepsakes as the ones to be presented in this article. Thus in the later sections, when discussing miniatures in general, I will not consider portraits of sovereigns or other socialites, which play a considerable role in the history of miniatures but whose function differs significantly from that of their more private counterparts. Finally, I have highlighted some items from the collection, which best express the social or material aspects of miniatures that are the focus of this article.

[1] This timing of active collecting is based on information gathered from Paul’s letters and submitted to the author as a verbal notice by curator Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi, who has studied the Sinebrychoffs’ collecting activities in depth. On the donation, see Ira Westergård. ‘A gift to the nation: Fanny Sinebrychoff and the donation of the Sinebrychoff art collection’, in Salla Heino, Kirsi Eskelinen (eds.), A Bulevardi Home – Art Collectors Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum, 2021, (212–31) 221.

[2] See e.g. Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi & Synnöve Malmström (eds.). Miniatyyrit. Helsinki: Valtion taidemuseo, 2002.

[3] I have used the letters from the years 1895 to 1909, about 477 items in total, which can be found translated into Finnish and transcribed on the web-page Paul Sinebrychoffin kirjearkisto [Paul Sinebrychoff’s Letter Archive], (accessed 15 June 2022).

Featured image: Peter Adolf Hall (1739–93), Portrait of a Young Man,
watercolour and gouache on ivory, 3.7cm x 2.9cm
Sinebrychoff Collection, Finnish National Gallery /
Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Simo Karisalo
Public domain. This image of a work of art is released under a CC0 licence, and can be freely used because the copyright (70 full calendar years after the death of the artist) has expired.

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