Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A first memory of the Portrait

I have a first, vague memory of seeing the Portrait. Back in the 1960ies, my family must have visited Aunt Edith, sister of my mom’s father Ben Cory, on a sunny day in Clovis California; she moved there after selling the huge Victorian Cory family house in Fresno. She ushered us into a large room, there was a piano, she pointed to the Portrait and told mom she would inherit it ‘and some silver’. I suppose everyone would have been more pleased if something more “substantial” had been indicated.
Fast forward to 1979. Mom and Dad returned from Bombay India and settled in Menlo Park California. Within months Ben (mom’s father) had moved in. My grandmother Susie had passed away, Edith was long deceased, and Pops was alone in Carmel. Soon enough Pops asked Mom if she would please hang the “old gentleman.”
The Portrait was unwrapped and saw the light of day after several years, and thereby really for the first time, the portrait became known to my family; but his identity was unknown, the artist was said (by the family) to be Peale (who?), and no one really cared about the old-fashioned quirky portrait except for Pops. I figure it brought memories of his childhood in Fresno, when the portrait hung in the Victorian. Probably in the parlor.
Hanging in the tiny sitting room, the Portrait was not my mother’s typical décor, which consisted mainly of unusual and prized Japanese art— 3 antique gold-leafed screens, two Tansu chests, a fine bronze sculpture of a lion, vases, netsuke….my father John had been born in Kobe Japan, his father took the family there in the 30s because of the Japanese green tea business. My own family had lived in Tokyo and Ashiya from 1962-67.
In Menlo Park the Portrait caused little excitement over the years. I married and moved to Germany. We would all laugh when mom’s dog Sophie would sometimes bark up at Samuel in the light of dusk.
When I returned to the USA in 2004, I began to research family lines, the Portrait, and the identity of the artist. Time-lines for Peale worked in the beginning, but as I identified the sitter more precisely and studied the different artists, I realized that Samuel Meeker had been painted by no other than….Gilbert Stuart.

From my cousin Craig Marshall, artist and teacher of illustration at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco 2/10/09:
Beth! The blog is way cool! Do you know that I have ALWAYS felt deep down that the portrait of Samuel Meeker by Gilbert Stuart reminded me of the Cory side of your family! This is totally amazing. Thank you for confirming what has been at the back of my mind for many years. I have always admired Stuart's skill. You are quite the sleuth. This could be a start to a new profession; lineage tracing to famous and not so famous paintings. …..

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