The history of miniature paintings can be dated as far back as the 16th century when wealthy Europeans commissioned their likeness for their loved ones or as a means of marital introductions. Originally made in gouache, watercolor or enamel, miniatures found a more utilitarian use with the invention of the daguerreotype and then ultimately the tintype. In today's digital age of photography, with more and more artists printing billboard sized prints, Bettina von Zwehl is among a growing number of practitioners looking to the past to create powerful, intimate portraits, in a 7 x 5" or smaller format.
Portraits features several bodies of work which all address the formal portrait, presented in oval, round or arched frames. Von Zwehl taps into historical iconography, staging scenarios reminiscent of allegorical paintings. In Tallulah and Jasmine, a young girl stares at the camera holding a dead fish; in Sari (Lampropeltis Triangulum Nelsoni), an adolescent girl confronts the viewer with a milk snake wrapped around her neck; in her series Made Up Love Song, we see a woman in profile, photographed in the same position over the course of six months; The Sessions presents silhouetted portraits of a young girl printed on photographic paper which is then torn, suggesting the fragility of youth; and in her latest series Dog Portraits, pugs, terriers, and all breeds of dogs are elevated to a regal status normally affiliated with royalty. Whether photographing young girls, women, or canines, von Zwehl honors the past, creating an intimacy often lacking in art making today.
Bettina von Zwehl was born in Munich, Germany (1971) and currently lives in London. She received her MA from the Royal College of Art (London) in 1999. Her ongoing pre-occupation with the miniature was inspired by her six month Artist in Residence at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2011. Solo exhibitions of her work have been held at a number of leading European and American museums and galleries including the Sigmund Freud Museum (Vienna, 2016) Freud Museum (London, 2016), Fotogaleriet (Oslo, 2014), National Portrait Gallery (London, 2014), Centrum Kultury Zamek (Poznan, 2011), Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood (London, 2009) and The Photographers Gallery (London, 2005). Her photographs are held in various collections including The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY), Mint Museum (Charlotte, NC), Victoria and Albert Museum (London, England), The National Portrait Gallery (London, England), The Rubell Family Collection (Miami, FL) and Pier 24 Photography (San Francisco, CA).