In earlier blogs I introduced the Portrait Miniature, dated 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.
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.
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.
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 (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 Street. Blythe’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.)
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
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