Finding the Artist of the Portrait Miniature – Part 2

In earlier blogs I introduced the Portrait Miniaturedated it Summer 1840-1842, discussed choice of region, and acknowledged my indebtedness to the work of Edna Talbot Whitley.  Now, with the Bingham exhibit opened, it is time to return to finding the artist who painted the little likeness that may or may not be the earliest image of Abraham Lincoln. 

Arthur Armstrong, Self-Portrait, c. 1840, Private Collection

Arthur Armstrong, Self-Portrait, c. 1840
Private Collection

In alphabetical order, the first artist possibility was Arthur Armstrong (1798-1851). He was born in 1798 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. His family included three members of the Continental Congress and two Revolutionary War generals, including John Armstrong, Jr., who served as Secretary of War in the cabinet of James Madison.  In 1820, when he was 22, Armstrong opened a studio in Marietta, Pennsylvania. On September 25, 1827, he married Harriet Groff Wentz (1808-1896) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  They would have seven children.

1840 c Arthur Armstong, Mrs Arthur Armstrong (Harriet Wentz) , Private Collection

Arthur Armstong, Mrs Arthur Armstrong (Harriet Wentz), 1840, Private Collection

 

 

He taught younger artists, including miniaturist John Henry Brown (1818 – 1891). Armstrong worked in the Ohio River Valley in 1839 and 1840. By 1842, the year of the death of the region’s more established artist, Jacob Eichholtz, (1776 – 1842), Armstrong had moved to the Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Portrait Miniature

Portrait Miniature

Armstrong painted portraits, landscapes and historical scenes. On the second floor of his Lancaster studio he exhibited Hamlet and Ophelia and a large picture of the Assassination of Caesar. In times of economic downturn, he painted signs and constructed and gilded picture frames. He died at the age of 53 on June 15, 1851. He was remembered as “a genial, kindly-hearted man.” The Lancaster Historical Society owns the preponderance of his works.

Armstrong’s travels in the Ohio River in 1839 and 1840 made him a candidate for artist of the Portrait Miniature.  Examples of his work, like so many of the lesser known antebellum artists, are not always easy to find.   Armstrong’s Self-Portrait and that of his wife, Mrs. Arthur Armstrong (Harriet Wentz), 1840, were available.  When compared with the miniature, the poses are similar – facing front with the head tilted slightly to the side. The treatment of the ears and mouth are not totally unalike, but Armstrong’s planar linearity and firm brushstrokes do not fit the gently modeled style of the miniature.

James Henry Beard,  Mrs. Lyman Beecher Todd (Sarah Ann Swift), 1855, Private Collection

James Henry Beard, Mrs. Lyman Beecher Todd (Sarah Ann Swift), 1855, Private Collection

James Henry Beard  (1812-1893) and David Gilmour Blythe (1815-1865) also were possibilities.  Beard lived in Cincinnati for 30 years, from about 1831-1861, but traveled frequently. Blythe lived in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for most of his 40 years but was an itinerant artist from 1840-1845. Though both painted portraits, each is remembered for satirical work.  James Henry Beard  and his younger brother William Holbrook Beard (1824-1900) are best known for their animal paintings in which monkeys, bears, dogs, often mock humans, such as James Henry Beard’s  It is very queer, isn’t it? and William Holbrook Beard’s School Rules and the timelessly iconic Bulls and Bears on Wall StreetBlythe’s work, whether humorous or unsettling, nearly always possessed a phantasmagorical edge. Blythe based Art Versus Law on a time he returned to his studio to find he was evicted.  The patron who bought the framed painting for $35 wrote, “Poor Blythe; All knew his faults –few, his virtues.”  The Dentist and Corn Husking are other examples of his work.

The softly modeled features of Beard’s Gerard Hallock, 1846, and Mrs. Lyman Beecher Todd (Sarah Ann Swift), 1855, share similarities with the Portrait Miniature. But Beard’s treatment of facial features and coloring differ noticeably. In Blythe’s portrait of The Reverend James Davis, 1849, analogous poses of each long-faced man create a deceptive resemblance. The miniature’s more subtle shadings belie further resemblance to the brightly lit portrait.  (More to follow.)

Sources

Arthur Armstrong

Gerdts, William H., Art Across America: the East and the Mid-Atlantic, (Abbeville Press, 1990), 268

Lancaster County Historical Society, Historical papers and addresses of the Lancaster County Historical Society (Lancaster, Pennsylvania), Friday, September 13, 1912 (184-191)

United States Census Bureau, Seventh Census of the United States, “Household of Arthur Armstrong,” August 12, 1850, Lancaster South East Ward, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_788; Page: 340A, lines 33-39.

Whitley, Edna Talbot, Kentucky Ante-Bellum Portraiture, illustrated by photos. from the collection of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, (Kentucky: 1956)  620

James Henry Beard

Gerdts, William H., Art Across America: The South, Near Midwest, (Abbeville Press, 1990), 268

Pennington, Curtis Estill, Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802-1920 (University Press of Kentucky, 2011), 108

Whitley, Edna Talbot, Kentucky Ante-Bellum Portraiture, illustrated by photos. from the collection of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, (Kentucky: 1956)  628-629.

David Gilmour Blythe

Gerdts, William H., Art Across America: the East and the Mid-Atlantic, (Abbeville Press, 1990), 183-4

O’Connor, J.,  David Gilmour Blythe, Artist, 1944, un-sourced manuscript, Open Journal Systems, Penn State University, http://ojs.libraries.psu.edu/index.php/wph/article/viewFile/2267/2100

Whitley, Edna Talbot, Kentucky Ante-Bellum Portraiture, illustrated by photos. from the collection of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, (Kentucky: 1956), 631

 

 

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2013
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About Patricia Moss

Patricia Moss is an art historian, or art detective if you will, who solves mysteries of 19th century American portraits. She located nearly 70 of Bingham’s lost portraits, a feat acknowledged by the Smithsonian’s Research and Scholar’s Center. From expertise with portraits of George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879), she developed skills that evolved into a comprehensive system based on the scientific method that conforms to the legal and ethical standards of art authentication. Moss served as a guest curator for the Bingham Bicentennial Exhibit, “Steamboats to Steam Engines: George Caleb Bingham’s Missouri: 1819-1879,” (March 10-September 8, 2011) at the Truman Presidential Museum and curated the opening exhibition, “George Caleb Bingham: Witness to History,” (September 2013 –), Jackson County Art Museum, Independence, Missouri. She is also the principal researcher for Fine Art Investigations.
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