A recent portrait investigation led to Jeremiah Wadsworth (1743-1804) and to the intertwined relationships of an art patron and an artist, but most intriguingly, to a re-appreciation of both the influence of the art patron and the work of John Trumbull (1756-1843), especially his seldom seen tender side.
During the Revolutionary War, Jeremiah Wadsworth was a Commissary General for the Continental Army, and later, for the French Navy. George Washington, who stayed at Wadsworth’s home whenever he visited Hartford, Connecticut, appointed Wadsworth to both positions. Following the war, Wadsworth was a member of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd United States Congresses. John Trumbull pictured Jeremiah Wadsworth with his 13-year-old son, Daniel Wadsworth (1771–1848), in 1784 in this double portrait. Despite some anatomical peculiarities, Trumbull’s depiction of a young man, still in short pants, looking over his busy father’s shoulder, his father turning toward him, is a tender painting.The entrepreneur and politician pauses in his review of a document as he looks over his shoulder to regard his heir. Young Daniel’s face expresses both a childlike seriousness and admiration. The ship seen through the portal in the background represents the elder Wadsworth’s career in the shipping industry. The red and white striped flag waving before the masted vessel refers to Wadsworth’s allegiance and material help to the new nation. Ten years after Trumbull executed the painting, Daniel Wadsworth wed the artist’s niece, Faith Trumbull (1769-1846).
John Trumbull portrayed Faith when she was six, with her father, his older brother Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., and with her mother, Eunice Backus (Mrs. Jonathan Trumbull, Jr.).
John Trumbull depicted Faith again in 1792, two years before her marriage.
Trumbull also painted the likeness of Daniel Wadsworth’s younger sister, Catherine Wadsworth (1774–1841).
Daniel Wadsworth became one of America’s first major art patrons. In 1842, he founded the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. One of America’s leading art museums, the Wadsworth Atheneum is filled with the work of artists Daniel Wadsworth supported such as Thomas Cole (1891-1848) and Frederic Church (1826-1900), and of course, the work of his wife’s uncle, John Trumbull.
John Trumbull’s male dominated historic paintings come to mind at the mention of name, not his quiet, warm family portraits nor his delicate and tender miniatures of women. The investigation that led to Jeremiah Wadsworth led to a renewed appreciation of one of the United State’s first major artists.