Bryony Cohen

Collector Bryony Cohen.

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The seeds of my interest in portrait miniatures were already laid before I met Robert. My father was a great collector of antiques, my sister used to be the organiser of the Olympia antiques fair, and I had some training in watercolour, but I would never have ventured into these unchartered waters without a guide.

“After Robert retired from his job as a senior registrar in the Family Division of the High Court, he devoted himself to his real passion – collecting portrait miniatures.

“He was a true academic collector. He was appointed the honorary keeper of portrait miniatures at the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1976, writing their catalogue (and that of the Holburne Museum in Bath), before becoming a consultant in portrait miniatures at Sotheby’s in 1984. Robert was extremely generous with his expertise and loved sharing his knowledge. In essence I became his last pupil. We used to meet most Thursdays to study his own collection down in Kent, look at miniatures in museums and stately homes, and view those for sale in auction houses, dealers and at antiques fairs. It was enormous fun for the six years we had together.

“Robert gave me an immediate leg up with the problem of identifying artists by showing me examples of their miniatures and pointing out the quirks to look out for: all Andrew Plimer’s sitters have the same long nose (I’m sure similar to his own), William Wood’s sky background has a thumb print in a lower corner, George Chinnery uses a very red blob in the corner of the eye, etc.

“When Robert died in 1994 his collection came up for sale. I bought as many as I could afford.”