Athens, Ga. – The Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia will present the exhibition “The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection” Oct. 6-Jan. 6. Organized by the Birmingham Museum of Art, the show is the first major exhibition on the little-known subject of lover’s eye jewelry and makes use of an iPad app to enhance visitors’ experience of the works of art.
The exhibition looks at the exquisite craftsmanship of small-scale portraits of individual eyes set into various forms of jewelry from late 18th and early 19th century England. In addition to the skilled artistry with which each of the tiny portraits was painted are enchanting stories of secret romance and loves lost.
In 1784, the Prince of Wales (later George IV) secretly proposed to a Catholic commoner and widow named Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert. Because it was highly unlikely that his father, King George III, would agree to the marriage, Mrs. Fitzherbert initially rejected the prince’s proposal and fled to the continent. Despite their yearlong separation, the prince proposed a second time, sending Mrs. Fitzherbert a picture of his own eye in place of an engagement ring. The prince’s romantic gesture inspired an aristocratic trend for exchanging eye portraits in a wide variety of settings, including brooches, lockets, rings and toothpick cases.
Because the eye might only be recognized by persons of the most intimate familiarity, these customized tokens were largely commissioned by clandestine lovers whose relationships were viewed as illicit or subject to misunderstanding.
“Visitors can marvel at the virtuosity of miniature painting and get a rare glimpse of private life in a different period of time,” said Dale Couch, curator of decorative arts at GMOA and the in-house curator for the exhibition.
The exhibition is accompanied by an iPad app created by the Birmingham Museum of Art. Visitors to GMOA will be able to check out an iPad for free to use the app while visiting the exhibition. Because these works are so small and are exhibited in cases, the app magnifies them and allows the viewer to see them from multiple angles in videos. It also provides insight on each work with informative text.
The collection from which the exhibition is drawn, assembled by David and Nan Skier, is the largest in the world and contains more than 100 objects, both decorative and functional, from simple lockets to lavish rings, each of which features an eye miniature. Although the majority of the works were meant to be worn as jewelry, some were intended to be carried in the form of small boxes.
The Collectors of the Georgia Museum of Art, an upper-level membership group that focuses on collecting art, will organize an exclusive seated dinner with a private tour of the exhibition by Nan Skier on Oct. 6. For ticket information, call 706/542-GMOA (4662).
On Oct. 13 from 10 a.m.-noon, the museum will host Family Day: Eye-Popping Art. Family Day is free and open to the public. Families will tour the galleries, do an art activity and then create a related craft.
Many of the painted miniatures in the exhibition were created to memorialize and mourn a loved one who passed away. Tricia Miller, head registrar of the museum, will conduct a tour titled “Cult of the Dead” on Halloween, Oct. 31, at 2 p.m. Miller will discuss how trends in sentimentality and mourning in late 18th and early 19th century England influenced similar trends in the U.S., permeating much of American material culture from jewelry to schoolgirl needlework to gravestone imagery and cemetery design.
The W. Newton Morris Charitable Foundation and the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art will sponsor this exhibition.
Partial support for the exhibitions and programs at the Georgia Museum of Art is provided by the Georgia Council for the Arts through appropriations of the Georgia General Assembly. The council is a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Individuals, foundations and corporations provide additional museum support through their gifts to the University of Georgia Foundation. The Georgia Museum of Art is located in the Performing and Visual Arts Complex on the East Campus of the University of Georgia. The address is 90 Carlton Street, Athens, Ga. 30602-6719. For more information, including hours, see http://www.georgiamuseum.org or call 706/542-GMOA (4662).