We found the artist of Woman of Strong Character. The artist is Alban Jasper Conant (1821-1915). Stripping the portrait of the Louisiana red herring, all we knew for certain was that the portrait was purchased in central Missouri around 1975. We needed to look at Missouri artists. Looking at images of portraits by a number of 19th century Missouri artists, the work of Conant stood out.
When we compiled an array of portraits by Alban Jasper Conant, the most striking resemblance to Woman of Strong Character was with Conant’s 1861 portraits of John Breckinridge (1760, 1860), the attorney general under Thomas Jefferson, and Edward Bates (1793-1869), the attorney general under Lincoln. The coloring is similar; the placement of the subjects on the canvas is identical. The chin, ears, nose, and eyes appear to be painted by the same hand. Similarities with other Conant portraits (below) are not as conspicuous but equally persuasive. With the exception of the Reverend James McCosh, D.D, the poses are alike. (In an interview with a New York Times reporter on October 19, 1913, Conant said he wanted to capture McCosh in the pose that most expressed the man, that is, leaning forward to explain a complicated idea. When McCosh sat stiffly upright, Conant asked a question he knew would interest the educator. McCosh leaned forward and spoke at length. The artist had the pose he wanted.) In all portraits, the chin is distinctive: strong, almost square, softened with a circular shadow at the neck. In all Conant’s portraits, faces are long and formal, but with the suggestion of a smile created by upward shadows at the edges of the mouth.
We compiled not only an array of Conant’s work, but also details of his work for a Morellian – or connoisseurship – analysis. Eyes, nose, mouth, and chin, and most tellingly, hands, assured us that Conant is the most likely artist of Woman of Strong Character.
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