Antique miniature portraits of the Tormey-Holder Collection

 

 


German-American Artist: Louis Zöellner

 

 

Cameo Portrait of an Early Twentieth Century Gentleman

Cameo Portrait of an Early Twentieth Century Gentleman, Carved
into Striated Black Onyx and Mounted in an 18 Karat Gold Surround

American
circa 1915-1925

Engraved to the underside of the subject's bust, "L. Zellner" (Louis Zöellner, 1852-1934)

1 1/8 x 1 1/2 inches

Not all antique portraits were taken with a camera or painted with a brush.
Many a Caesar had his countenance sculpted in marble and, centuries
later (especially popular in the 18th and 19th centuries), many a
wealthy individual had their portrait carved into stone or shell by
a master cameo cutter.

One such master cameo cutter was Louis Zöellner (1852-1934),
a German immigrant to America, and we are pleased to have one
of his works in the collection.

Sadly, the identity of the carved subject is unknown, but he is depicted
magnificently. The fine detail with which his facial features, beard
and hair have been rendered is remarkable considering the cameo’s
small size: a mere 1 1/8 x 1 1/2 inches.

The gentleman’s likeness is carved in truly three dimensional form,
into a single piece of striated black onyx, the top layer being off
white in color and the bottom layer black.

Zöellner was born in the German dutchy of Oldenburg. His father
had hoped that he would become a teacher, but the young
Louis was more interested in art. At the age of 16, he became
apprenticed to a cutter of cameos and precious stones and,
displaying natural talent, he quickly excelled in that craft.

Two years later, with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War
in 1870, he volunteered to serve in Kaiser Wilhelm’s army.
A year later, eager to leave war-torn Europe, he emigrated
to the United States in 1871, settling in New York City.

There, he worked as a cameo cutter and gem engraver for
various jewelers on Broadway, before eventually opening his own
studio, in about 1880, located at Broadway and 9th St.
There, he obtained considerable success and came to be regarded
as America’s leading cameo artist.

A testament to his skill, amongst Zöellner’s clients were the likes of
President and Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes, President James A. Garfield,
the renowned poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Scottish novelist
Robert Louis Stevenson, and railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Zöellner died on November 17, 1934, aged 82, having suffered
a stroke. His passing marked the end of an era, as very few
artisans have practiced his art form since, in the U.S. or abroad.

 

 

Similar objects in the Tormey-Holder Collection
(click photos for larger views and additional information):

 

Cameo Portrait of an Early Nineteenth Century Gentleman

Cameo Portrait of a Mid-Nineteenth Century Gentleman,
Carved into Shell and Mounted in a 14 Karat Gold and
Black Enamel Brooch

 

 

Cameo Portrait of a Mid-Nineteenth Century Boy

Cameo Portrait of an Mid-Nineteenth Century Boy,
Carved into Shell and Mounted in a 15 Karat Gold Brooch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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