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Delighting in detail - celebrating compact, miniature art this spring

Art takes so many shapes and sizes and we try to cater for a range of scales here in the gallery. From large statement pieces to bijouterie. Being realistic, however, we inhabit a late-Georgian town house and anything bigger than about 1.5 metres would dwarf the setting.

So it seemed a natural choice to pick a theme of smaller works as the stars of our Easter 2024 Precious Little exhibition. Not just two-dimensional artworks that are small in scale – up to around 25cm square – but also works that focus on the little and precious things in life, both in subject and in the techniques and materials used and how they are applied. Works that celebrate detail in their finish as well as spotlighting the minutiae of structure and concept.

Often, art in miniature is inherently impressive thanks to the precision and patience vital to its creation. This is equally true of paint and ink as it is of sculpture or engraving.

Mini art can also be fascinating: the viewer is invited to reimagine the world on an entirely different scale, getting up close to appreciate the intricacy, imagination and intelligence of the artist. Miniature art delights the eye and teases the brain - and it's been doing it for centuries.

The earliest known miniature sculptures were created over five thousand years ago to be placed in Egyptian tombs. Ancient Egyptians believed, of course, that these miniatures would come to life to join the deceased in the after-life.

Meanwhile, if you're a portrait fan, like me, you'll probably know that portrait miniatures have long been considered to be a uniquely British art form due to the status and popularity they experienced, from the early Tudor proponents of the sixteenth century till the advent of photography. 

The paints for the Tudor Court miniatures were made from the finest quality pigments that would be ground very fine to eradicate lumps and then mixed with a medium, usually gum Arabic. The artist had to ensure everything was kept very clean and tidy so no dust stuck to the tiny work. Miniaturist pioneer, Nicholas Hilliard, even suggested artists should wear silk and make sure they didn't have dandruff. 

Putting aside the state of their scalps, our regional artists go to similar lengths. Whether its Anita Saunders with her painstaking tiny mammal and bird paintings on metal leaf, Steven Hubbard with his revival of mid-twentieth-century vintage still lifes, Maggie Chinn with her small stitched and appliqued pictures, or Juli Bharucha with her mind-boggling Porcleain Exquisite range of hand-assembled tiny curls and intricate cones, set off by their gold lustre interiors.

We have landscapes in miniature composed of lavish layers of marks and brush strokes small abstract pieces made of overlays of precious mica minerals, pen and ink drawings with meticulous detail, hand-sculpted porcleain figures, small-scale textile collages, sculptures and reliefs and images of an array of small objects and creatures that are treasures to those who depict and love them. The latter include Eleanor Campbell's folk-art-style series of paintings of the small crockery animals – doubling up as jugs and bowls – on her dresser shelves.

A joy in small things involves actively seeking out the positive aspects of one's surroundings and circumstances, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they may seem. Our artists have taken this to heart, literally and metaphorically. We hope you do too.

  • Precious Little opens on Friday 29 March (Good Friday) and runs till Saturday 27 April. Open Thursday to Saturday, 10.30am-1pm and 2-4.30pm.

Open all Easter Bank Holiday weekend – Friday 29 and Saturday 30 March and Monday 1 April.

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