Elle Shushan, Philadelphia, PA
Miniature of Anna Louisa Middleton Blake (1778–1800), signed and dated by London-based Adam Buck, 1803
Miniature of Eliza Izard Pinckney (Mrs. Thomas Pinckney, Jr.) (1784–1862), by Edward Greene Malbone (1777–1807), 1801, watercolor on ivory. Gibbes Museum of Art/Carolina Art Association (1939)
In 1790, Abigail Adams wrote that Philadelphia, a city filled with parties, balls and salons, was “equal to any European city.” Aristocratic Charlestonians, already accustomed to living in Philadelphia while serving in Congress, and not particularly enamored with plantation life, established both city and country residences there. The redoubtable Alice DeLancey Izard wrote to her oldest daughter, the equally formidable Margaret Izard Manigault, in 1807 that: “My heart is Divided. It is sometimes in Charleston, Sometimes in Philadelphia.” The salon of Alice DeLancey Izard and Margaret Izard Manigault established them as the reigning queens (ironic terminology for Federal Philadelphia) as the “Republican Court” (think Tea Party — literally), influencing politics, art and style.
In a time when portrait painters and miniaturists created public image, these cosmopolitan Charleston aristocrats patronized the best image-makers at home in Charleston, in Philadelphia and by Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley in Europe. Stylish Charlestonians also patronized Edward Greene Malbone, America’s leading miniaturist and an itinerant artist whose stops included Philadelphia and Charleston. They also patronized Thomas Sully, raised in Charleston and who became Philadelphia’s society portrait painter. Also among the artists patronized by South Carolina’s elite were Swiss-born Charlestonian Jeremiah Theus and Charlestonian Charles Fraser, whose work was influenced by Malbone. Ms Shusan’s presentation is a story of the New Republic, how the cosmopolitan, diplomatic, intertwined families of Izards, Middletons, Manigaults and Pinckneys lived between Europe, Charleston and Philadelphia, and made their most lasting impression with the artists they patronized.
Elle Shushan became interested in Chinese export porcelain, theater and “creepy” things as a teenager in her native New Orleans. She collected memento mori and Gothic chairs. Ms Shushan’s interest in objects related to death and mourning led to her write Grave Matters (1990).
During her tenure running the William Morris Agency’s theater department in Los Angeles, as well as representing Cher, she bought her first miniature after reading Prince Jack, The True Story of Jack the Ripper. She was captivated by an insatiable need to learn the historical context of miniatures. The need to put intriguing objects in a historical context has also lead her to discover the connections between Federal Philadelphia and Charleston, the topic of her presentation to the Forum. Elle Shusan last spoke to the Forum in 2007 about “America’s First Face: The Progress of Portrait Miniatures in the New Republic.”
While taking the first steps that would establish her as the preeminent American dealer in American, British and Continental miniatures, Elle Shushan moved to New York where she worked for CBS. She also produced “Boys of Winter,” a Broadway play about Vietnam starring Matt Dillon and Wesley Snipes.
Ms Shushan’s specialized scholarship resulted in The Art of Family (2002), consulting for Portrait Miniatures in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2010) and contributing an essay to The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection (2012). Her contributions to The Magazine Antiques are “How America found its face: Portrait miniatures in the New Republic” (April 2009) and “Side Portrait Painters: Differentiating the Da Lee Family Artists” (July/August 2011). Antiques and Fine Arts published Ms Shushan’s articles on “Informed Collecting: Portrait Miniatures of Children” (January 2010) and “The Art of High Living: Miniature Goldwork by John Ramage” (January 2001). She contributed “The Bonaparte Family Miniatures at the Maryland Historical Society” to Connaissance des Arts (1995) and “British Portrait Miniatures” to Art + Auction (March 2011).