Stories Behind the Portraits: Vestine Porter

Q. “In old portraits, why aren’t people smiling?”

A.    (1) They wanted to look honorable and serious, and definitely, not like fool.

(2) They had bad teeth.

Times and attitudes changed, and people like John King Stark, husband of George Caleb Bingham’s Vestine Porter, became dentists.

Vestine Porter

Vestine Porter was 15 years old when Bingham painted her portrait. It was near the time of her marriage on December 11, 1850, to Dr. John King Stark, 22.  Vestine’s father was a landowner in Independence, Missouri, and the state’s first railroad president.[1] Stark, at the time, was the westernmost dentist in the country, a time at a time when “a bottle of mercury and a Spanish dollar were the dentist’s stock in trade.”[2] Porter paid the artist to add a landscape to the portrait with a dawn of a new day on the left and with fertile symbolism on the right. At Vestine’s chaste neckline, Bingham painted a pink rose bud and a fully opened flower. In the 19th century language of flowers, a pink rose expressed gentleness.

Bingham painted similar delicate portraits of women in 1849/1850. These feminine subjects nearly float on the canvas. Not in the way of less talented artists who were unable to fix their sitters firmly in the canvas, nor in the manner of artists late in the century who depicted women as languid, helpless, decorative objects, but as real flesh and blood women, beautiful, serene, yet strong.

Ten years later, in 1860, Bingham painted a larger, second portrait of  25-year-old Vestine Porter now Mrs. John K. Stark.  Replacing  tree, vine, and leaves was a drape of distinction. No more does she have a wistful look. She is still serene and strong, but also  content and secure.

George Caleb Bingham, Mrs. John King Stark (Vestine Porter), 1860 (325)

George Caleb Bingham, Vestine Porter (Mrs. John King Stark), 1860
Oil on canvas, 32 x 28 inches
Private Collection

Dr. John King Stark

Independence 1859 Jail
Jackson County Historical Society
Independence, Missouri

Not long after Bingham painted Vestine’s second portrait. in June 1861, John K. Stark was elected the 13th mayor of Independence, Missouri. Eight months later, in February 1862, Colonel Charles R. Jennison of the Kansas Cavalry, accusing Stark of Southern sympathies, jailed him in the city’s new jail, the same one that still stands today in Independence Square. Friends managed his release within 24 hours, but Stark was not about to repeat the experience. He fled with his very pregnant wife Vestine and their four-year-old son, William Thomas, to Fayette, Missouri.  There, Vestine gave birth to a daughter, Maud, on February 20, 1862. As soon as mother and child were strong enough to travel, the family was again on the run. In St. Louis, Missouri, a blockade runner, a cousin of Stark’s, John King Withers, smuggled the young family down to Mobile, Alabama. From Mobile, John, Vestine, young William and little Maud Stark made their way to Juarez, Mexico.[3]

The Governor of Chihuahua suffered from gum disease. When he learned of an American ex-patriate dentist, he sent for Stark. Knowledgeable about the latest dental technology.  Dr. Stark created a pair of Vulcanized rubber dentures.  The grateful leader gave him $500 or the equivalent of just under $10,000.[4] 

Vulcanite porcelain dentures

Mexico soon proved to be as unstable politically as the war-torn country to the north. The Starks moved  to Cuba and then back to St. Louis, where Vestine died on January 25,  1865.

John King Stark, DDS

After the war, Stark moved to Kansas City, re-married, helped found the Dental Department of the Kansas City Medical College, and became its first dean.  tree, vine, and leaves.Dr. John Stark “had an unsurpassed skill in the use of cohesive gold.”[5]  A former student remembered “impressive fillings Stark placed during those early years, fashioned only with hand instruments and the gold leaf annealed over a shovel-full of live charcoal.”[6]

Times and attitudes changed. Because of people like John King Stark, DDS, husband of George Caleb Bingham’s Vestine Porter, portrait sitters began to smile.

 

 

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2018
All Rights Reserved

 

[1] The railroad James Porter brought to Missouri would have been the Independence – Wayne City, or Missouri River Railroad.  Completed in 1849, the mule-powered four-car train ran on oak and iron rails from Independence to its shipping station, Wayne City Landing. 3 ½ miles downriver. “On the return, downhill trip, the mules were loaded on one of the flat cars and the train coasted back to Wayne City Landing.” (Lynne B. Greene, “Jackson County Traders Built First Railroad West of the Mississippi, “Kansas City Times, January 19, 1942, Western Historical Manuscripts Collection – Kansas City, Native Sons Archives, A31, f.1., 1.)

[2] Charles L. Hungerford, DDS, “ Doctor John King Stark: Requiescat in pace” Kansas City, Missouri: Western Dental Journal, IX, No. 2 (February 1895), 49.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Wilbur Morse Shankland, Dentistry:  The Biography of a Profession, (The History Committee, Missouri Dental Association, 1965), 60.

[6] Charles L. Hungerford quoted in Dentistry:  The Biography of a Profession, (The History Committee, Missouri Dental Association, 1965), 60.

 

 

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George Washington Bingham

George Caleb Bingham was named for his paternal grandfather, George Washington Bingham, a wheat and tobacco farmer who lived on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The artist remembered his grandfather as “a tall and white-headed gentleman, overflowing with the milk of human kindness.” [ii]  Was he?

The first known record of George Caleb Bingham’s paternal grandfather is in Hanover County, Virginia’s 1782 census: George Bingham, household of two. Those two people were George, 29, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and his bride, the former Louisa Vest, 21, who was pregnant at the time. A few months later, Henry Vest Bingham, George Caleb Bingham’s father, was born. He was the first of eight children: six girls, Elizabeth, Rhoda, Mariah, Rebecca, Mildred, Maria, and a boy, John. The children grew up surrounded by cousins, uncles, aunts, and probably, grandparents. In that 1782 census, on the line below George Bingham, the census taker wrote, “John Bingham” with a household of six. Two lines above, was the name Josias Bingham, household of seven; one slave.[iii]

George Bingham Genealogy

Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790 and Records of the State Enumerations: 1782 To 1785 Virginia (Government Printing Office, 1908) page 29. The Binghams are in the first column, above the indentation. See detail below.

 

George Bingham Genealogy

George Bingham, 1782 Census, Hanover County, Virginia – Detail. Page 29, Column 1, lines 38, 40, 41

“In 1784, after serving in the Hanover Militia, George Washington Bingham bought land in Orange County, Virginia, that extended from the county line along Lynch River to the top of what has become known as Bingham Mountain.” [iv] After Rhoda’s birth in 1785, the family moved west from Hanover County to Orange County[v], to the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 20 miles north of Charlottesville.[vi]

Dyke, Virginia, became the nearest town. There, George W. Bingham farmed wheat and tobacco. He was also a preacher, licensed to perform marriages in Orange County. In 1795, he was one of ten men who bought an acre of land from Harry and Sally Austin in order to establish a Methodist church, the first denomination to appear in the Blue Ridge mountains. They built the church on the north side of the Lynch River. Originally, it was called Austin’s Meeting House. Later it became known as Bingham’s Meeting House. A church still stands there today.

George Caleb Bingham's grandfather's church

Bingham’s Church
204 Church Lane, Dyke, Virginia

In 1838, Orange County split, with the Western part becoming Greene County. The new dividing line ran straight across the former, larger county and through the middle of Bingham’s Church.  “The church now straddles the Albemarle-Greene County Line. The preacher stands in Albemarle County and the congregation sits in Greene County. At times the church has struggled. It was twice closed during the 1950s because of low membership, but because of it’s historic value it has come to life again and again as Greene County’s oldest church.”[vii]

George Caleb Bingham Genealogy

Virginia Department of Geology and Mineral Resources Map
Detail with Bingham’s Mountain and Church Lane near the border of Greene and Albemarle Counties

Bingham wrote that his grandfather “was exceedingly kind and indulgent” to his numerous slaves, “never using the lash or allowing it to be used upon his place.’’[viii] Rose-colored glasses often tint the past, but the artist’s grandfather may, moreso than many, have lived by the principles he preached. Census details hint that G. W. Bingham’s eight slaves were a family: an adult man and woman with six children, four girls and two boys.[ix]

Some twenty years later, when the artist visited his own childhood home, he was troubled that a slave the Binghams had sold to neighbors when they left for Missouri had been abandoned by his owners. In a letter to his mother, George Caleb Bingham quoted the elderly man’s wife, “now that they had got all the cream out of him they didn’t want him any more.” The young artist, pressed money into the man’s hands and asked him to contact him if he were ever in distress.[x] I have often wondered if the man did, and if so, what was Bingham’s response.

Still, Bingham’s attitude and action were a step or two above the norm. Could the man for whom he was named, George Washington Bingham, have influenced the artist’s enlightened thinking?

Many thanks to Jackie Pamenter of Greene County [VA] Historical Society for her insights.

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2018
All Rights Reserved

 

End Notes

[i] George Caleb Bingham, unpublished memoir, undated, in E. Maurice Bloch, George Caleb Bingham: Evolution of an Artist (University of California Press, 1967), 9.

[ii] George Caleb Bingham wrote that his grandfather George Washington Bingham was “born and raised in some of the New England states.” (E. Maurice Bloch, George Caleb Bingham: The Evolution of an Artist (University of California Press), 10) If true, his paternal family probably arrived in the first wave of settlement. But, a 610-page Genealogy of the Bingham Family in the United States, published in 1898, contains no information related to George Bingham. (Theodore A. Bingham, Genealogy of the Bingham Family in the United States, Especially of the State of Connecticut (Harrisburg Publishing Company, 1898).

[iii] Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790 and Records of the State Enumerations: 1782 To 1785 Virginia (Government Printing Office, 1908) page 29, column 1, lines 38, 40, 41.

[iv] Edgar Woods, Albemarle County in Virginia: Giving Some Account of what it was by Nature, of what it was Made by Man, and of Some of the Men Who Made it (Michie Company, printers, 1901), 135.

[v] Most Bingham histories state that the family lived in Albemarle County. Facts, including the 1820 census, as well as church history, indicate the family residence was actually in Orange County.

[vi] E. Maurice Bloch, George Caleb Bingham: The Evolution of an Artist (University of California Press), 10.

[vii] Donald Covey, Greene County, A Brief History (History Press, 2007); Woods, op. cit., 135.

[viii] E. Maurice Bloch, George Caleb Bingham: The Evolution of an Artist, op. cit., 10.

[ix] United States Census Bureau, Fourth Census of the United States, “Household of George Bingham,” Orange County, Virginia, 1820, National Archives and Records Administration, Series M33, Roll 141, page21, line 7. Detail of Record is:

Free White Persons – Males – 26 thru 44: 1

Free White Persons – Males – 45 and over: 1

Free White Persons – Females – Under 10: 1

Free White Persons – Females – 16 thru 25: 1

Free White Persons – Females – 45 and over: 1

Slaves – Males – Under 14: 1

Slaves – Males – 14 thru 25: 1

Slaves – Males – 45 and over: 1

Slaves – Females – Under 14: 4

Slaves – Females – 26 thru 44: 1

Number of Persons – Engaged in Agriculture: 5

Free White Persons – Under 16: 1

Free White Persons – Over 25: 3

Total Free White Persons: 5

Total Slaves: 8

Total All Persons – White, Slaves, Colored, Other: 13

[x]George Caleb Bingham, “Letter to Mary Bingham,” September 25, 1841, Petersburg, Virginia, in  Lynn Wolf Gentzler, editor, Roger E. Robinson, compiler, “But I Forget That I am a Painter and Not a Politician”: The Letters of George Caleb Bingham (The State Historical Society of Missouri and Friends of Arrow Rock, Inc. 2011), 57.

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Evolution of an Art Detective

Fannie Medora Sombart, after 1880
Oil on Canvas, 48 x 32 inches

In 2002, I was not yet an art detective. I was in the midst of earning advanced degrees in art history and history. But, the Bingham Portrait Project, my search for George Caleb Bingham portraits, had brought me to the attention of a board member of an historic site. The organization owned a Bingham portrait of a young woman, Fannie Medora Sombart, that had been donated to them 15 years before. The board members and volunteers, almost exclusively women, displayed their most valuable artifact by their beloved Missouri Artist in the main hall across from the grand staircase. In their home tours, they featured it.

Shortly before my involvement, several art connoisseurs, all of them men, stated, without explanation, and in a manner that the board and volunteers perceived as condescending and paternalistic, that the portrait was not by Bingham. Most of the women dismissed the pronouncement, but seeds of doubt grew. The board member asked if I could help resolve the concerns.

From the beginning, I knew George Caleb Bingham was not the artist. Nothing about the piece resembled Bingham — size, palette, pose, brushwork. The painting was taller and narrower than any portrait by Bingham; the palette, not as harmonious; the pose, a bit awkward; the brushwork, busier. Modeling was not as crisp or as psychologically engaging. But, there was something else that was absolutely wrong that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Finally, I figured it out. The subject’s clothing was different from any other Bingham portrait. She wore a slim skirt, a bustle, a laveuse (extra fabric draped over the hips like a washerwoman’s apron), and small straw bonnet with an upturned brim.

Fannie Medora Sombart
Dress Detail

 

These styles came into fashion in the 1880s: Bingham died in 1879.The fashion plates below show that in 1879, with swirls of fabric, designers emphasized the skirt. In 1880, the emphasis had moved up to hips through the addition of a laveuse and a bustle. The portrait subject appears to wear both a bustle and a laveuse, neither of which came into fashion until after George Caleb Bingham’s death.

Peterson’s Magazine, January, 1879
The swirling fabric of the skirt is the fashion emphasis

1880 Day Dresses
The addition of the laveuse places the fashion emphasis on the hips. An example of the straw hat with upturned brim is on the model at the far right. It was the latest fashion trend, but was not manufactured until 1880[1]

Despite my 100-page illustrated report detailing all the reasons why the portrait was not the work of George Caleb Bingham, the board members, honest and trustworthy people, had trouble believing that the prestigious and valuable donation had all been based on a lie.  How had this happened?

From local historians, I learned the anonymous donor from 1985, now dead, as was the art dealer, was one of the region’s wealthiest people. From a newspaper article, I learned the authenticator had been a socially prominent painter and gallery owner. He embellished the authentication with a story I had never heard. He said Bingham waited to paint the ears of his portrait subjects until he was paid. Guides at the historic home repeated the anecdote during their tour.

Through a friend of a friend, I found someone who had known the art dealer well. According to his former model, the man played the role of the artist to perfection. He was a man of sophisticated tastes. He wore a cravat. He was an extraordinary dinner guest. He had a fine sense of humor, yet time and again, he told tales of his life in eastern Europe. He was a freedom fighter who had spent time in the Gulag. From scavenged horsehair, he made brushes and painted portraits of the guards. In exchange for the portraits, the guards were to give him food or light duty. He learned not to finish a painting until the guard upheld his part of the bargain. For the rest of his life, he painted the ears in last. After his release from the forced labor camps, he escaped to the United States. He spent extravagantly, and often, he was out of money.

Still more research revealed that in the early 1980s, federal prosecutors accused the donor of altering her company’s scales and underpaying employees. The donor avoided jail-time, but owed a huge bill for tax fraud. Among the individual’s acquaintances was the artist turned art dealer. What arrangement did they have?  Where did the dealer find the portrait?  How much did he earn? It is public knowledge that he appraised the portrait at $48,000. At that time, 1985, the highest price a Bingham portrait had ever reached at auction was $16,500. Even following the rule of thumb of doubling the auction price for a private sale, the donation was over-valued. But his number gave the donor a valuable charitable deduction to reduce the tax bill.

Such lies and unethical actions are not uncommon in the art world. The ethical standards and guidelines are constantly broken. The average person does not know how to avoid art fraud. The average person does not notice the inherent conflict of interest of art dealers selling the same pieces they authenticate. For reasons I do not fully understood, I felt a commitment to right this wrong. As an art detective, am I quixotically tilting at windmills? Or am I restoring the integrity of George Caleb Bingham’s legacy – and the legacies of other artists – one portrait at a time? In the large scheme of life, this work is small, but with each correct attribution, it feels as though one small piece of the universe is back in order, and that fewer artists are spinning in their graves. Not all corrected attributions are heart-breaking. Far more often, the truth resonates with the portrait owner. More than 80% of my clients become life-long friends.

 

By Patricia Moss
Principal, Fine Art Investigations

 

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2018
All Rights Reserved

 

[1] Marion Sichel, History of Women’s Costume, (Chelsea House Publications, 1990), 51.

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Posted in 19th Century American Portrait Artists, Art Detectives, Art History Research, Artist Identification, George Caleb Bingham, Portrait Research | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in 19th Century American Portrait Artists, Portrait Research | Tagged , | 1 Comment

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 Artist at Center Stage

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. With hard-earned artistic skill and well-reasoned political perspective, he portrayed his observations. 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 evaluated 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

Setting

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. His dog sits behind him. 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.

Meaning

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, but many were disenfranchised. To assimilate into the post-war world, these usually rural folk had to dissemble their true feelings. They had not yet forged a Midwestern identity to circumvent the Union-Confederate division.  The Puzzled Witness may represent their awkward circumstances.

Self-Portrait?

Even more, the painting addresses Bingham’s feelings. George Caleb Bingham is the puzzled witness. 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 later memorialized in Order No. 11 / Martial Law, his faith diminished, but he continued to serve as state treasurer for Missouri’s Union government. The wounds of war were still too fresh for others to comprehend his distinction between questioning of the excesses of governmental power versus treasonous criticism.  These misunderstandings of the painting’s intent by critics and viewers widened his personal ideological rift.  Later, the government denied him compensation for his Kansas City home that was confiscated and destroyed by Union soldiers. Still he worked as Missouri’s Adjutant General to help other victims receive justice.  He’d been a Whig, upholding republican principles for most of his life, but by 1878, his devotion to a  strong federal government wavered. He had married a relative of Stonewall Jackson and asked to be buried facing south. The resemblance to the central character and to Bingham can be seen in an 1878 photograph: straight bushy eyebrows, square face, strong chin.

The Puzzled Witness gazes at the tabletop. The clutter may symbolize the complicated history he witnessed.  After the Civil War and during and after Reconstruction, there was no easy answer for life at the Kansas – Missouri border or for an artist of deep thoughts and feelings.

Order No. 11

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2013
All Rights Reserved

[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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