Finding the Artist of the Portrait Miniature – Part I

In an earlier blog we dated the portrait miniature Summer 1840- 1842.  The next question in finding the artist of the portrait miniature is: where? Hundreds of artists painted portraits in the United States during those years.  How could we narrow down the possibilities? Provenance.

Attributed to Joseph Henry Bush, Mathisen Miniature, ca. 1840-1842
Aqueous Medium on Ivory 1 7-8 x 2 3-16 inches

The miniature was a family heirloom, inherited by the previous owner from her brother. His name, Frederick, was scratched on the case.  Their Missouri roots stretched back to the late 1840s.  But in the early 1840s, the family had lived in Kentucky. Their grandfather was reared in the home of his uncle and aunt in Cynthiana, Kentucky, after the death of his mother in 1827.  He grew up with his cousins. One of those cousins later married George Rogers Clark Todd, brother of Mary Todd Lincoln.  The presidential connection was a stretch, but Abraham Lincoln was indeed among the possibilities.

Edna Talbott Whitley, Kentucky Antebellum PortraitureIn the early 1840s the Ohio River Valley was the geographic center of the United States.  Itinerant artists, whether they were moving east and west or north and south, traveled through the Ohio River Valley, painting portraits along the way.  Cynthiana was located at the heart of the valley; Springfield not too far from the region. Fortunately, over half a century ago, a woman who easily could have lived as a pampered socialite, spent years researching those artists – Edna Talbott Whitley (1891-1984). Her book Kentucky Antebellum Portraiture, published in 1956 by the National Society of Colonial Dames of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, provides images and biographical information on hundreds of artists who passed through the Ohio River Valley. Other books have been published since, but are basically an expanded footnote to her extensive research.  Not as exhaustive, but useful nonetheless, was the Illinois Portrait Index published in 1972 by the National Society of Colonial Dames of Illinois. With these resources and others  we compiled the names of scores of artists who worked in the Ohio River Valley in antebellum America. We whittled the numbers down to those active from 1840 through 1842.  We included all portrait artists since we knew from years of study that miniaturists sometimes painted full-size canvases, and painters of full-size canvas portraits sometimes painted miniatures. We searched for examples of each artist’s work, sometimes fruitlessly.  But we found some good examples, developed a comparative scale, and began the search.

(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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