Subject of Her Own Life: Sarah Goodridge

Artist Sarah Goodridge’s Self-Portrait at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was simply part of some routine research.  But it gave me pause. Was this the pose and attitude of an antebellum spinster?

Image of Sarah Goodridge, Self-Portrait, 1830

Sarah Goodridge, Self-Portrait, 1830
Watercolor on Ivory, 3.75 x 2.5 inches
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
95.1424

Not like any I had seen before.

Sarah Goodridge, born in 1788, studied with Gilbert Stuart. He considered her portrait of him to be his most accurate representation. Goodridge adapted Stuart’s techniques of oil on canvas to watercolor on ivory so skillfully that her paintings possess more depth and sophistication than many other miniatures of the time.

1825 Sarah Goodridge, Gilbert Stuart, 1825 Watercolor on Ivory, 9 x 7 inches, MFA Boston 95.1423 Male

Sarah Goodridge, Gilbert Stuart, 1825
Watercolor on Ivory, 9 x 7 inches
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts 95.1423

The small painting brought to mind one of the most audacious — and sensual — of American antebellum portrait miniatures, Beauty Revealed, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Goodridge traveled from Boston to the District of Columbia in 1828 to deliver this other self-portrait to Daniel Webster (1782-1852).  A quarter century of  letters between the two provides no written documentation of their relationship. But, the miniature gives artistic documentation in the gentle folds of fabric entwining her “gift” to Webster and in its deep red frame with soft interior lining.

Sarah Goodridge, <i>Beauty Revealed</i>, 1828<br>Watercolor on Ivory, 2.5 x 3 inches<br> Metropolitan Museum of Art 2006.235.74

Sarah Goodridge, Beauty Revealed, 1828
Watercolor on Ivory, 2.5 x 3 inches
Metropolitan Museum of Art 2006.235.74

When Goodridge gave Beauty Revealed to Webster, he was a widower. His wife of  20 years, Grace Fletcher, had died earlier that year. In 1829, Webster married Caroline LeRoy (1797-1882), a woman younger and wealthier than the artist.  Goodridge painted her self-portrait in 1830. What does her expression reveal?

Goodridge painted more than 160 known miniatures. The detailed work took a toll on her eyesight. She was blind by 1851 and dead by 1853. She never married. At the current time, when a major focus of art interpretation is objectification of women and people of color, in her own age, this exquisite artist was the subject of her life and work.

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2017
All Rights Reserved

 

Carrie Rebora Barratt, Gilbert Stuart, Ellen Gross Miles, Gilbert Stuart, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004, 291.

Carrie Rebora Barratt, Lori Zaba, American Portrait Miniatures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010, 125.

Dale T. Johnson,  American Portrait Miniatures in the Manney Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990, 126-127.

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Mystery of “A Descendant of David Rittenhouse”

The clue to solving the mystery of an antebellum portrait of a young woman was in the auction house description, “the subject was a relative of David Rittenhouse (1732-1796), first director of the U. S. Mint.” The name rang a bell, and a bit of research revealed that David Rittenhouse was also one of early America’s foremost mathematicians and scientists, second only to his friend Benjamin Franklin. How could a portrait of a descendant be by an unknown artist? How could such a demure, poised young woman be nameless?

Family History of "A Descendant of David Rittenhouse," ca. 1845

A Descendant of David Rittenhouse, ca. 1845
Oil on Canvas, 29.5 x 24.5 inches
Private Collection

Date

The investigation began, as always, by determining when the portrait was painted. Only in the mid-1840s did women’s hairstyles combine a deep wave on the cheek with an exposed ear, the date could easily be placed in the mid-1840s. The next question was where.

Region

Initial genealogical research into the family of David Rittenhouse disclosed that the family remained in or near Philadelphia for generations.

Provenance

The auction house supplied a handwritten note and postmarked envelopes that the seller retained from his private purchase in Philadelphia in 1976. The letter contained little salient information concerning either the provenance of the portrait or the identity of subject or artist. The signature was not completely decipherable and did not fully match the monogram on the stationery. The postmark on the front of the envelope and the return address and note on the back of the envelope provided clues. The postmark was Flourtown, Pennsylvania. The return address named the owners, Irvin and Dolores Boyd, of Meetinghouse Antiques in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. The note read “Female Portrait in Living Room,”  indicating the portrait was part of an estate the Boyds purchased or a sale they managed.

The Boyds founded Meetinghouse Antiques in 1959. It still exists today and is owned by their daughter, Priscilla Boyd Angelos, as Boyd’s Antiques.[1] I contacted her. Much to my surprise, she responded, “I do know the woman who sold it to my dad was a descendant. She lived in our town and just died at the age of 88 in August of last year.” She also knew the married name of the individual. The married name fit the stationery’s monogram.

The provenance for A David Rittenhouse Descendant became:

By descent in the Rittenhouse family, sold to Meetinghouse Antiques, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, 1976; sold to private individual in Cuyahoga, Ohio, 1976; to public auction in 2014, to current owner.

But which descendant was the sitter and who was the artist?

Subject

The name of the artist proved elusive until I studied the Rittenhouse family thoroughly. As I researched, I kept in mind that since the portrait subject appeared to be in her late teens or early twenties, and that the date of the painting was circa 1845, her birthdate should be somewhere around 1820. But, to learn for certain who she was, I had to begin with David Rittenhouse. Several facts deepened my study. The family history of the young woman in the portrait included not just the brilliant mathematician/ scientist, David Rittenhouse, but also Jonathan Dickinson, president of Princeton University; Founding Father Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant; Thomas Barton, the designer of the Great Seal of the Republic, and William Paul Crillon Barton, first Surgeon General of the United States Navy. The complete story of the fascinating family history can be found here. Below is a family tree illustrated with prints and portraits. See footnote [2] for further information on each image.

Illustrated Family Tree of A Descendant of David Rittenhouse [2]

Rittenhouse Family Tree

In following the family history of David Rittenhouse to 1845, I discovered that by the fourth generation, the Rittenhouse genealogy decreased to only one branch. The name Barton replaced David Rittenhouse’s surname when his granddaughter, Esther Sergeant married William Paul Crillon Barton. William and Hetty Sergeant Barton had 14 children. Seven daughters lived to adulthood.

  1. Elizabeth Barton (1815-1895) (Mrs. Samuel Abbott)
  2. Julia Barton (1817-1884) (Mrs. Jonathan Dickinson Miller)
  3. Adeline Barton(1818-1876) (Mrs. Thomas Howard Paschl)
  4. Emma Barton (1822-1882) (Mrs. Frederick Carroll Brewster)
  5. Mary Barton (1823-1856) (unmarried)
  6. Lavinia Barton(1827-1895) (unmarried)
  7. Selina Barton (1830-after 1871) (unmarried)

One of those daughters must be the subject of the portrait. The two oldest daughters, Elizabeth and Julia, both married in 1840. But, the sitter did not wear a wedding ring so neither is the subject of Portrait of a Young Lady. Adeline was 27 in 1845 and probably was too old to be the subject. Emma was 23; Mary, 22; Lavinia, 18; and Selina, 15. One of those four daughters is the young woman in the portrait. A search in all the historical societies and archives in and around Philadelphia area brought up nothing for any of those names.  For now, the identity of the subject is Miss Barton. Still left to be known was the artist’s identity.

Artist

American Portrait Artist Identification

Thomas Sully (1783–1872), Mother and Son, 1840
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Bequest of Francis T. Sully Darley, 1914
Accession Number: 14.126.5, www.metmuseum.org

In the mid-1840s, America’s first art center, Philadelphia, still held its own against New York City’s growing art world. The most popular portrait artist in Philadelphia for decades was Thomas Sully (1783-1872). Long, graceful fluid lines characterize Sully. He came from a family of actors and his paintings often have the feel of a stage set. Portrait of a Young Lady was far too practical to be by Sully. The portrait was also too anatomically correct. Sully could paint a fine picture, but when closely examined, necks and arms are disproportionately long.

Sully’s son-in-law, John Neagle, rivaled his father-in-law in popularity. Some of his portraits exhibited the same dark palette, similar dark eyes, a comparable light source and similar shading as Miss Barton. But Neagle relished putting the accoutrements of a subject’s profession in portraits. There were none in A Descendant of David Rittenhouse. Morellian Analysis proved John Neagle was not the artist.

The answer to the artist’s identity lay in the foray into family history. A cabinet-sized portrait of the father of the Barton sisters exists, Dr. William P. C. Barton, 1831, owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts. The artist: William James Hubard. I immediately saw not only the family resemblance, but also the hand of the same artist.

An image of a portrait by William James Hubard, Henrietta and Sarah Mayo, shared by an expert on Hubard, confirmed the identity of the artist of Miss Barton.

William James Hubard (1807-1862)  deserves a page unto himself. Find it here.

Conclusion

Rittenhouse, Art authentication

William James Hubard, Miss Barton, ca. 1844
Oil on Canvas, 29.5 x 24.5 inches
Private Collection

In my opinion, the portrait of a Descendant of David Rittenhouse, purchased at auction in November 2014, was painted by William James Hubard (1807-1862) in Philadelphia, probably in the late winter or early spring of 1844. The subject was Miss Barton, one of four daughters of William P. C. and Elizabeth Rittenhouse Sergeant Barton: Emma Barton (Mrs. Frederick Carroll Brewster) (1822-1882), Mary Barton (1823-1856), Lavinia Barton (1827-1895); or Selina Barton(1830-after 1871).

 

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2017
All Rights Reserved

 

[1] Priscilla Boyd Angelos, “About Us,” Meetinghouse Antiques, www.boydsantiques.com; Bonnie L. Cook, “Dolores H. Boyd, 79; sold antiques in Ft. Washington,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 12, 2009

[2] Images in the family tree, beginning at top left and moving clockwise, are: Edward Ludlow Mooney, Jonathan Dickinson, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 25 inches, Princeton University Art Museum, Gift of the Artist, PP6; Charles Willson Peale, David Rittenhouse, 1796, Oil on Canvas, 49 x 39 1/2 inches, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian, NPG.98.73; Unknown Artist, Thomas Barton, No Date (ND), “Thomas Barton (1730-1780),” Penn Biographies, http://www.archives.upenn.edu/people/1700s/barton_tho.html, accessed December 2014; Copy after Charles Willson Peale, William Barton, ND. “William Barton (heraldist),” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Barton_(heraldist), accessed December 2014; William James Hubard, Dr. William P. C. Barton, 1831, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2009.77.1; Miss Barton; Charles Willson Peale, Elizabeth Rittenhouse (Mrs. Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant), 1789, Private Collection; Charles Willson Peale, Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant, 1786, Gift of Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant, Princeton University Art Museum, PP163.

 

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But who was the artist?

Image of Ralph E. W. Earl's 1834 portrait of Andrew Jackson from the White House collection

Ralph E. W. Earl, Andrew Jackson,1834
Oil on Canvas, 25 x 30 inches
White House Art Collection

In articles inspired by the portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office from right, left and center this week, not one mentioned the name of the artist: Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl (1788 – 1838).  In today’s world, where everyone with a cell phone can take and tag a photograph, it is hard to conceive of a time when people depended on artists to provide them with a picture of a distant person. An artist could earn a good living replicating portraits of famous personages. Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), for example, kept his original waist-length portrait of George Washington and from it, created 75 copies. [1]   To further augment their income, artists could have their representations engraved or lithographed to reach a larger market.

 

Lithograph of Ralph E. W. Earl's portrait, Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, 1832

John H. Bufford, after Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl, Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, 1832
Lithograph, 19 x 15.75 inches
Yale University Art Gallery 1946.9.869
Public Domain

Ironically, the portraitist for the populist president was born into a Tory family. Ralph E. W. Earl’s father, Ralph Earl (1751-1801), an English-born artist who depended upon the patronage of the wealthy colonial mercantile class spent the Revolutionary War in Britain. When the war was over, he and his family returned to the United States, where the younger Ralph was born, probably in 1788, in either New York or Connecticut.[2] Ralph Earl died in 1801. As early as 1802, at 14, Ralph E. W. Earl was painting portraits. By 1809, he had become successful enough to earn his passage to England to study with Benjamin West (1738-1820) and John Trumbull (1756-1843).

Image of Ralph E. W. Earl's 1838 portrait of Andrew Jackson

Ralph E. W. Earl, Andrew Jackson, ca. 1830
Oil on Canvas, 30 x 35 inches
Yale University Art Gallery Photograph, 1932.272
Public Domain

Ralph E. W. Earl set foot back in America on New Year’s Eve, 1815, in Savannah, Georgia, . A year later, he was in Nashville, Tennessee, at the home of Andrew Jackson (1767-1845). Earl depicted the general as the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. At the Hermitage, Earl met Jane Caffery (1801-1819) the youngest niece of Andrew Jackson’s wife, Rachel Donelson Jackson (1767-1828), Ralph and Jane married on May 21, 1818.  Jane died in childbirth nine months later. Earl remained in Nashville, co-founded and directed the Tennessee Museum, and portrayed Jackson’s family and friends. He never re-married. When Jackson was elected president in 1828, Earl accompanied him to Washington, D. C. and remained with him through his two terms in the White House.

“During those eight years Earl turned out numerous paintings of Jackson, some of distinction, but many repetitious in nature and mediocre in quality, which were political icons rather than art. Politicians, especially Democrats, knew it ‘did no harm to order a portrait of General Jackson from Earl.”[3]

Earl died at the Hermitage on September 16, 1838, from complications of heat stroke. He was 50. [4]  Andrew Jackson was at his bedside. Three days later, the former president wrote:

His death is a severe bereavement to me, he was my sincere friend and constant companion, and when I was able to travel, always accompanied me.  He was an invaluable friend, a most upright and honest man, but he is gone to happier climes than these “where the wicked cease to trouble and the weary at rest.”[5]

Ralph E. W. Earl, Andrew Jackson on his horse Sam Patch, after 1833
Oil on Canvas, 30 x 21 inches
The Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee

Ralph E. W. Earl painted nearly 50 known portraits of Andrew Jackson, waist-length, full-length, and astride his horse. Many others painted Andrew Jackson as well. Thomas Sully (1783-1872) created today’s most recognizable portrait of Jackson, the one used on the $20 bill.  But Ralph E. W. Earl’s likenesses were those Jackson himself preferred and, arguably, shaped Americans’ vision of the man. Give Ralph E. W. Earl credit.

 

 

 

 

 

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2017
All Rights Reserved

 

 

[1] Ellen Miles, “Gilbert Stuart Paints George Washington,” National Portrait Gallery, February 19, 2016, http://npg.si.edu/blog/gilbert-stuart-paints-george-washington, accessed February, 2017.

[2] Rachel Elizabeth Stephens, America ‘ s portraitist: Ralph E.W. Earl and the imaging of the Jacksonian era, Dissertation, 2010, University of Iowa, 328, http://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3539&context=etd, accessed February 2018.

[3] James C. Kelly, “[Catalogue].” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 4, 1987, pp. 208–276. www.jstor.org/stable/42629707

[4]  Stephens, op cit., 328.

[5] Andrew Jackson, “Letter to Nicholas P. Trist, from Hermitage, dated September 18, 1838, Correspondence of Andrew Jackson, Vol. 5, (Washington, D.C., Carnegie institution of Washington, 1926-35), 565-66, in Stephens, op cit., 328.

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Some are easier than others…

Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman

“Who was the artist?” the owners wanted to know.  The Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman was an especially hard project because the painting had little to no provenance. The owners purchased the portrait in Wisconsin at auction.  The estate may have been from Iowa, but the owners, antique dealers, thought the portrait looked southern. The only other clue was a nearly illegible signature at the upper right on the back of the relined painting.

Image of Portrait of a Gentleman, 1842

Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman, 1842

Image of portrait's signature and date (verso)

Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman Signature and date (verso)

The placement and the illegibility reminded me of other portraits where a family member had scrawled the sitter’s name to preserve the name of the ancestor. When signing the back of a canvas, antebellum portrait artists usually printed their names with precision, or at the very least, with artistry. The first initial “J.”, was fairly clear, as was the date, 1842, but the middle initial? The last name?

Watson” and I puzzled over the name. We enlarged it, changed the contrast, the color, tried various name combinations and attempted to match the various permutations with lists of artists and census records. We could not decipher a combination of letters that fit any name.

In the meantime, without provenance, I could only do a non-binding attribution. I compared Portrait of a Gentleman to examples from hundreds of antebellum American artists. The work of the peripatetic pair of artists Trevor Thomas Fowler (abt. 1800-1881) and Theodore Sidney Moise (1808–1885) seemed most comparable: the eyes, eyebrows, mouths, stance of the subjects, and in the corner foliage. I must emphasize that this was a non-binding attribution. The owners saw the resemblances, too. I promised them that I would continue to try to find the name of the sitter.

Solving the Mystery

When I returned to the portrait. I printed out the best rendition of the signature and tried several different research paths but, as before, every attempt led to a dead end. But, I kept the piece of paper on my desk and glanced at it from time to time to see if a name would materialize. In the midst of a completely different research project,  I came across  a portrait at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia, by an artist I had never heard of:  James Hamilton Shegogue (1806-1872). There it was. The name on the back of Portrait of Unknown Gentleman. Not the sitter, but the artist. Judging simply by the portrait at the Morris, Shegogue’s style fit Portrait of Unknown Gentleman better than Moise. Both men were from Charleston, South Carolina, and were about the same age. Could they have known one another or trained together?  Is that why I saw a similarity?

Then came the quest to find more examples by Shegogue. Through the Inventory of American Paintings, I found a small handful of images of drawings, prints, and a poor photograph. The Frick Reference Library was the best resource, with 15 black & white images.

The Artist

The search for biographical information was equally frustrating. I was able to learn that James Hamilton Shegogue was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 22, 1806. By 1833, he was in Connecticut, where he married Sarah Hamilton Lord (1812-1906). James and Sarah would have three children. In 1834, Shegogue exhibited three paintings at the National Academy of Design. In following years, the Academy included increasing numbers of his artworks. He was elected an Academian in 1843. In 1849, members voted him onto the board for a three-year term as corresponding secretary.

I reviewed records of the National Academy. In 1842, Shegogue exhibited four portraits of a “Gentleman.” The portrait pictured above may be one of those.

Image of National Academy of Design Record for James Hamilton Shegogue for 1834-1845

National Academy of Design Record for James Hamilton Shegogue
1834-1845

 

Shegogue NAD Record

National Academy of Design Record for James Hamilton Shegogue
Detail from 1842

J. H. Shegogue’s copy of the Henry Inman (1801-1846) portrait of Nicholas Fish is owned by the New York Historical Society. How much Shegogue admired Inman is apparent in a note he wrote his friend Thomas Seir Cummings (1804-1894) on December 27, 1855, “It gives me great pleasure to accept as a memento of our friendship the sketchbook of our late friend Henry Inman. Nothing that you have selected would be more esteemed by me”[1]   

Shegogue retired to Warrenville, Connecticut, in 1862. “His reputation faded rather quickly, and today he remains an obscure figure among mid-nineteenth century New York artists.”[2]   He died in 1872.

Aterword

Now, when I look at the scrawled signature from Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman, all I see is “J. H. Shegogue.” Some mysteries are easier to solve than others. Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman was not one.  The antique dealers who own the painting enjoy the portrait on the wall of their home. Now they know the subject was probably a young man from New York City. Since this long-term project began, an 1833 portrait by James Hamilton Shegogue appeared in the marketplace. Last week, Christie’s sold a multi-figured Civil War genre work, The Zouave Que Vive, by Shegogue for a respectable hammer price of $32,000 — $40,000 with buyer’s premium. Like the words scrawled on the back of Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman, is the name of James Hamilton Shegogue rising from near anonymity?

 

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2017
All Rights Reserved

 

[1]Cummings Papers, James Hamilton Shegogue to Thomas Seir Cummings, December 27, 1855, reel NC1, frame 198, in Teresa A. Carbone, American Paintings in the Brooklyn Museum, Artists born by 1876, Volume 2 (D. Giles, 2006), 943.

[2] Ibid.

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The Puzzled Witness

The Puzzled Witness, 1874, is George Caleb Bingham’s often overlooked last genre work. For 40 years, Bingham witnessed the people and the the politics of Missouri, and the nation. He portrayed his views with his paintbrush with his hard-earned artistic skill and his well-reasoned political perspective. Sometimes he put himself in the picture as one of many characters in a scene, usually as the one recording the events. In The Puzzled Witness, he placed himself at center stage for the first time[1] and evaluates his role as witness.

Image of painting by George Caleb Bingham, Puzzled Witness 1874

George Caleb Bingham, The Puzzled Witness, 1874
Oil on Canvas, 23 x 28 inches
Private Collection

Unlike Bingham’s best-known colorful, active outdoor paintings of the antebellum years, Puzzled Witness is set in a dark, motionless interior.  This last genre scene is even darker that his earlier, lesser known artworks such as Country Politician1849, or The Checker Players1850, and lit more dramatically. The composition’s asymmetry focuses the viewer’s eye on the witness. He is a short man clothed in plain homespun. He wears boots and clutches a rumpled hat. Behind him, his dog sits. The rest of the men in the room wear shirts with stiff upturned collars, suits, vests and shoes. The witness is the only participant who does not a tie. The defense attorney sits at the end of a cluttered table. Scraps of paper have fallen to the wooden floor. The clutter is reminiscent of the symbolic disorder in the foreground of Raftsmen Playing Cards1847, or In a Quandary, 1851. Bright light on the clear portion of the tabletop draws attention to the witness’ empty white shirt. This focus has no other precedent in Bingham’s work.

In 1874, a St. Louis art critic interpreted The Puzzled Witness:

The artist has seized upon the strong moment. The witness for the prosecution is up, and the attorney for the defense has just put a puzzler to him. It is a stunner. The witness is, in point of fact, stumped. He scratches his head for the answer, but it don’t seem to be there, or perhaps, it is a neat bit of acting.

Missouri Statesman, 11 December 1874

In contrast to the forthrightness of Order No. 11 (see below), Bingham reveled in ambiguity in The Puzzled Witness. The St. Louis art critic could not determine if the witness was truly “stumped” or acting.

In 1874, nearly a decade after the end of the Civil War, some of the Missourians displaced by Order No. 11 had returned to the region. They, and those who had remained in the region throughout the war, tried to recover their lives. Yet many were disenfranchised. To assimilate into the post-war world, these often rural folk had to dissemble their true feelings. They had not yet forged a Midwestern identity to circumvent the north-south division.  The Puzzled Witness may represent their awkward circumstances. But even more, the painting addresses Bingham’s feelings. George Caleb Bingham is the puzzled witness. The resemblance to the central character and to Bingham can be seen in an 1878 photograph: straight bushy eyebrows, square face, strong chin.

Before and during the Civil War, Bingham worked for a unified nation with a strong central government. When that same government failed to halt the atrocities of total war on the western frontier, as he memorialized in Order No. 11 / Martial Law, his faith was shaken. Yet, he continued to serve as state treasurer for Missouri’s Union government. Later, the government denied him compensation for his home that was confiscated and destroyed by Union soldiers. But,  still he worked as Missouri’s Adjutant General to help other victims receive justice.

The Puzzled Witness gazes at the tabletop. The clutter may symbolize the complicated history he witnessed.  There is no easy answer.

Order No. 11

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2013
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[1] Michael Edward Shapiro posited the theory that George Caleb Bingham himself is the “bewildered” witness in  George Caleb Bingham,  (Harry N. Abrams and the National Museum of American Art, 1993), 135, 137 .

 

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Rescued from Oblivion

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Portrait If you are already familiar with the portraits of George Caleb Bingham, especially the portrait Mary Ann Gilliss (Mrs. Benoist Troost) at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, then you know at first glance that George … Continue reading

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Busy, happy holiday

What a busy, happy holiday for the George Caleb Bingham portraits branch of Fine Art Investigations. First came the discovery of two long sought after Bingham portraits: Joshua Belden (1802-1877) and Agnes Elizabeth Lewis (Mrs. Joshua Belden) (1806-1843). Then came fresh photographs of a portrait that is an old friend, Sallie Neill.

George Caleb Bingham, Mrs Henry A Neill (Sarah Ann (Sallie) Elliott), 1871 (Detail)

George Caleb Bingham, Sarah Ann (Sallie) Elliott (Mrs Henry A Neill), 1871
Oil on Canvas, 30 x 25 inches
Private Collection (Detail)

I never cease to be amazed at the difference in black and white images, such as those of the Beldens below, from color images in these links to detail color photographs of Joshua Belden and Agnes Lewis (Mrs. Joshua Belden).

Joshua Belden was a man with dark hair and fair skin, younger and handsomer than in the b & w image. Bingham, with his usual astute perceptions, engages the viewer to wonder about the personality of the man. Agnes Belden’s black dress and white fichu accentuates her statuesque beauty.

The Belden portraits eluded me because they were sold shortly before the existence of online databases for art sales.  When I think of the time I spent trying to track down a will for the widow of the previous owner… I am grateful to the owner of these portraits who rescued them from oblivion and who so willing shared images and information.

 

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2017
      All Rights Reserved

 

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Another new Bingham – Louisa Watkins

George Caleb Bingham, Louisa Ann Conwell (Mrs. John Q. Watkins), 1867
Oil on Canvas, 30 x 25 inches
Private Collection

Louisa Watkins is the fourth post-Civil War posthumous portrait I have seen that depicts  a person George Caleb Bingham may never have met or barely knew. To create the portrait, he had to rely on a photograph. The others are Sarah Ann (Sallie) Elliott (Mrs. Henry A. Neill)Julia George, and Julia’s brother, Richard Booker George. All four subjects sit facing forward, in the immovable and resolute manner that people sat before a camera in the early days of photography.

With its widened temples, Louisa Watkins has the tell-tale “Bingham look.” Some of the Missouri Artist’s students could mimic that “look,” which causes mis-attributions even in the present day. But, everything about Louisa Watkins from hair to lace, to fingertips, speak of George Caleb Bingham. Provenance proved my theory that the Missouri Artist painted the portrait from a photograph after the sitter’s death.

Provenance

The portrait’s ownership descended through the family. The most recent owner had in her possession a small document, handwritten in 1938 by a Watkins descendant.  I have learned that family memories can be the least reliable source, but the detail of this note rang true, especially the specifics of, “Daguerrotype made when she was 18 yrs. old. Painting made in 1867 from daguerrotype by Col. Geo. C. Bingham.”

1938 Louise Watkins Provenance Note

Provenance note for Louise Watkins Portrait, Written in 1938 
(Conwell was actual maiden name)

Date

1867

Subject

Louisa Ann Conwell was born on August 20, 1839, in Xenia, Greene, Ohio, to Richard Conwell and his second wife, Eliza Beatty. (The note writer was a few months off in the written recollection, but close enough.) Louisa was the eleventh of her father’s twelve children. Her father died when she was five. As her widowed mother raised her six children and a mentally challenged step-daughter, she had the help of at least three of her older stepsons, who lived nearby with their families.[1]  

In the late 1850s, Louisa, along with several of her older siblings and half siblings, moved to Kansas City, Missouri.  When she was 19, she met a 29-year-old businessman,  John Q. Watkins. On June 9, 1859, she married him. Their first child, Judith Chevallie Watkins, was born  on July 2, 1861.  A year later, on June 9, 1863, Louisa gave birth to a son, John Q. Watkins, Jr.[2]  

John Q. Watkins purchased Kansas City’s oldest bank in 1864. Originally founded in 1856 as Coates & Hood, with a subsidiary real estate firm, Northrup & Co., the bank was later renamed Northrup & Chick.[3] As Watkins Bank, the facility moved to a new building at the corner of Main Street and 2nd Avenue.[4]

Louisa and John’s third child, Robertine Lela, was born May 10, 1865. That same year, the men of Kansas City elected Watkins to the City Council.[5]

Louisa gave birth to their fourth child, her namesake, on May 11, 1867. The birth must not have been an easy one because a little over a month later, on June 20, 1867, Louisa died. Her resting place is in Kansas City’s historic Union Cemetery.

After her death, Louisa’s oldest child, Judith Chevallie, or Vally as she was called, 5, was sent to live in a convent school.[6] Watkins’ banking partner, George Bryant, and his wife, Bettie, adopted the baby, “Lulu,” and raised the younger daughter, Lela.[7] The early life of her son is not currently known, but by the age of 17, he lived with his father in rooms in or near the bank.[8]

Watkins never remarried. He invested in Kansas City’s first streetcar company and in the county’s first Horse Railroad Company in 1870. By 1874, he owned a silver mill in Colorado. The bankers of Kansas City elected him president of the town’s Clearinghouse.9]  When Watkins retired, he returned to his family’s Virginia plantation. There he died in 1899 at the age of 70.

Conclusion

Johnston Lykins (1800-1876), George Caleb Bingham’s good friend, presided over the Kansas City branch of the Mechanic’s Bank.  Lykins and John Q. Watkins would have interacted professionally. They probably attended some of the same social functions and charity events. Bingham was part of the same circle. He may have met Louisa Watkins before her death.  In addition to stylistic and historic evidence,[10]  the feature of the Watkins portrait that most defines it as a Bingham is its psychological engagement. Bingham imbued Louisa Watkins with an almost innocent, yet enigmatic, expression. That the model for the portrait was a tiny, ten-year-old daguerreotype makes the feat all the more amazing.

 

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2015
      All Rights Reserved

 

[1] Family information derived from public records on Ancestry.com, including birth and death records, and census data on family members for the years 1840-1880. 

[2]Ibid.

[3] Carrie Westlake Whitney, Kansas City. Missouri: Its History and Its People, 1808-1908, Volume 1  (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1908), 145. Later in the history, Whitney used 1865 as the date of transfer.  

[4]Early view of Main Street and 2nd with the Watkins Bank in view on the corner. Delaware Street bluff in view behind the bank, Photograph dated July 1868, Scrapbook Collection #3 – Historic Kansas City, P24, Box 1, Page 7, Number 29, Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library,  http://www.kchistory.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/19th&CISOPTR=369&CISOBOX=1&REC=10 , accessed November 2016.

[5] Whitney, op. cit., 675

[6] United States Census Bureau, Census of the United States, “St. Teresa’s Academy Catholic Convent,” June 8, 1870;  Third Ward, Sub 43, Kansas City, Jackson County, Missouri; National Archives and Records Administration, Series M593, Roll 782 , page 33, lines 35. .

[7] United States Census Bureau, Census of the United States, “Household of John Q. Watkins,” July 6, 1880; Kansas City, Jackson County, Missouri; National Archives and Records Administration Roll: 692, page 23, lines 20-21

[8] Un-sourced Statement in Ancestry.com, but confirmed with 1880 census, “Household of George Bryant,” Kansas City, Jackson County, Missouri, page D, lines 17-20; Watkins and Bryant partnership confirmed in Wm. Crosby and H. P. Nicholes, “Private Bankers, Missouri,” The Bankers’ Magazine, and Statistical Register, Volume 20 (Banks & Banking, 1866), 93.

[9] Whitney, op. cit., 675; Rocky Mountain News Print Company, The Colorado Directory of Mines: Containing a Description of the Mines and Mills, and the Mining and Milling Corporations of Colorado, Arranged Alphabetically by Counties, and A History of Colorado from Its Early Settlement to the Present Time (Rocky Mountain News Print Company, 1879), 193; I. S. Homans, The Banker’s Almanac and Register, 1877 (Banker’s Magazine, 1877), 83.

[10] In May 1870, Bingham moved from Independence, Missouri, the town adjacent to Kansas City to the east, into a new studio above Shannon’s Dry Goods Store in Kansas City, at 3rd and Main, one block from Watkins Bank.  Bingham’s proximity to Watkins made him the logical choice  His national and regional reputation made him the artist of choice for Kansas City businessmen and socialites.

 

 

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