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John William Bailey Biography

John William Bailey (1831-1914) was a British miniature artist. He worked are mostly on enamel and he is well known for miniature portraits of cats, dogs, and other animals.

John William Bailey
John William Bailey

Life of John William Bailey

John Bailey was born on 27th April 1831 in London to a father who was a tanner. His basic education was done at Stratford-on-Avon and later obtained his training under famous English enamel painter William Essex. He was the prime painter of the 19th century who explored enamel painting and extended it from miniature portraits to larger enamel plaques.

After his training, John Bailey made enamels and portraits of dogs mainly. Later he was involved in miniature of other animals like cats. Bailey then started to exhibit his works at Royal Academy in 1859 and it lasted for almost three decades till1899 and his work are still held in Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Other than Royal Academy, Bailey also exhibited his work at the Society of British Artists and the Royal Academy of Miniature Society which was primarily for painters, gravers and sculptors from 1859 to 1889. When the prince of Kolapore was on a visit to England, he was impressed by the work of Bailey. So he also hired him to work for him on some of the miniatures and hence Bailey produced commissions for the Rajah of Kolapore.

John William Bailey’s famous works

Bailey was involved in making miniature portraits. They were usually made in watercolor or enamel and was developed from the concept of miniatures of illustrated manuscripts. Miniatures were so popular among the 16th-century aristocracy mostly in France and England and later it was spread to most parts of Europe by the mid of 18th century. They were still in high demand in the 19th century until they started to get replaced by photography in the mid of nineteenth century. Miniatures were presented as intimate gifts to be given to family members to signify the absence of family members either emigrating or going on war or either daughter getting married as a symbol of remembrance. Some males also gifted them to their better half during their courtship periods. A ruler named James I of England gave many miniatures as political or diplomatic gifts.

Bailey portrayed mostly animals as he was fond of them. Also, there was a huge craze for keeping animals as their pets during the 19th century and they portrayed their pets to be kept as a remembrance like a family member for their life. Hence Bailey pursued his passion and his career in the same.

Some of his prominent works are

  1. Group of Miniature Dog Portraits

    Group of Antique Miniature Dog Portraits
    Group of Antique Miniature Dog Portraits

This hand-painted miniature of dog group dates to the late 1800s.

The first one is a gilt metal stick pin measuring 2 ½”, that is set with a miniature circular enamel paint

The second large circular panel which is 1 1/3” in diameter depicts a terrier is a large circular panel depicting a terrier.

The third is of dainty dog portrait measuring 1/2” in diameter is one of the smallest miniatures

  1. The framed assemblage of eight canine miniature enamels and a central racehorse

    Eight Canine and a Central Racehorse Miniature
    Eight Canine and a Central Racehorse Miniature

This frame consists of assembled eight canine miniature enamels along with a central racehorse. Each of the enamels is signed and dated, three of them are also titled. One of the enamel has a metallic paper overlay. “Thebais” is the title given to central racehorse. Small canines have a diameter of 0.75”, Center one has a diameter of 1.5”x1.75”.The overall frame size is 6.12”h x 8.25”w.

  1. Gold Brooch with Fox head Miniature

    Brooch Consisting of Miniature Fox Head
    Brooch Consisting of Miniature Fox Head

This enameled miniature is of fox head which is inscribed on the Gold brooch in the form of a spur with a revolving rowel. It also has a buckle and strap. The diameter of the brooch is around 2 cm.

  1. Grabber


This portrait is of a champion English bulldog named grabber and was made in 1894. It was enameled on porcelain with a diameter of 1 ¾ inch. It is set in a mount made of gold.


Bailey signed and dated his work mostly in reverse and he used an abbreviated form of his signature as J.W.Bailey. His work is a marvelous piece of arts and he dedicated his whole life to pursue his passion. Bailey died in 1860 at the age of 83 years.

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