A HUGE step forward! How cool!
THE WORLD OF SAMUEL MEEKER, MERCHANT OF PHILADELPHIA, AND GILBERT STUART, AMERICAN PORTRAIT ARTIST
Monday, March 30, 2009
A HUGE step forward! How cool!
Thursday, March 26, 2009
…Her father and his brother Edward Penington were partners in a sugar refinery in Philadelphia that was founded by her grandfather Edward, a prominent Quaker merchant. Glimpses of her life are found in her uncle Edward Penington’s record of theater visits in Philadelphia. “Nancy [as she was known] P.” went to the theater with her uncle Edward at least once in 1801 and in 1802, and in 1803 she joined her uncle’s theater parties several times. *
From Lawrence Park:
Daughter of Isaac and Sarah Penington of Bordentown, New Jersey. She died the year following the painting of her portrait, of consumption.
Bordentown, 1805. Canvas 32 x 28 inches. Seated, three-quarters left, in a gilded armchair covered with crimson brocade, with eyes to spectator, and wearing a black velevet gown. Her hair is auburn, and her eyes “red-hazel.” She holds a miniature in her hands, and through an open window one catches a pleasing glimpse of the Delaware river, a bit of landscape painting which shows what he might have accomplished had he turned his brush to landscape art. This picture is especially interesting as being one of the few known portraits by Stuart to which he affixed his name, “G. Stuart, Bordentown, 1805,” being painted beneath the window.
* Further dates and names of plays which Ann attended are listed, taken originally from “Edward Penington’s Day Book, 1799-1806” in the collection of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
What is the quest for a formal attribution like?
After considerable research and preparation of documentary evidence, David arranged for his family, together with the portrait of Catherine Wister Miles, to assemble in Washington at the National Portrait Gallery, where the portrait was examined by three experts. David wrote, “You have to envision this - as our family is standing in front of the unfinished Stuart portrait of Martha Washington …. (continues below)...
Significant clues to support the attribution made by David and his father
~Her husband was painted by GS, albeit at a different time; Stuart often found his customers from within circles of families/friends he had already painted
~In the same area (Philadelphia, Germantown), in the same time period
~Provenance; the passing through the family hands, is solid, and the timing for when the two paintings were separated is understood
~The style of the painting, as noted by the attributors, is that of Gilbert Stuart, showing a focus on detail of the face, and does not indulge in ‘flattery’, and is unique in depicting a female with glasses on her head!
~The possession of eyeglasses points to a woman of funds, ie able to afford a portrait by one such as Gilbert Stuart
~There is no record of this painting by Gilbert Stuart, but he did not keep records
The attributors state:
~that the portrait is a panel painting on a very smooth surface that was grained to produce Stuart’s signature twill canvass effect
~the white on Mrs. Miles’ shawl is in keeping with white flourishes found on other portraits.
~This is an unsigned portrait. …With closer detection, distinctive “s”s are evident on three folds of her bonnet. [Stuart is known to have a whimsical touch.]
~the essence of Catherine is successfully depicted by the artist; stern, moral, humble
…and the "experts" start rolling me over the coals…. My art historian in Cleveland (Ms B. F.) who has impeccable art credentials - is our greatest supporter - warned me of the response we might get. You would have expected a follow-up report - but none was forthcoming. ….. So - as the Smithsonian is not subject to the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] - I never could ascertain what was said among all the art professionals - in their email or written correspondence.
So licking my wounds - I carried on for another day. "
I'm about to set out on yet another adventure with this portrait - at the suggestion of a former University of Akron professor who teaches in Florida - and hers is a worthy idea - making the rounds of the Women Studies' program throughout the nation. As I tell my children ( well - young adults already - 15, 17, and 22!) it's all about courage and commitment - which is applicable to any age!
In this "enlightened" era - I'm left to wonder whether those words have meaning and yet, as we share a passion for enlightening the world to the courage and commitment exhibited by our ancestors, there is a reason for spreading the message!
For reports on the portraits of Catherine Wister Miles and her husband Samuel;
Sunday, March 22, 2009
From Lawrence Park:
Presented in 1909 by Miss Elizabeth F. McKean to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washinton, D.C.
David McCann notes about Mile's captivity by the British; "In correspondence from General William Howe, Colonel Miles was granted a two-week parole provided, under the strictest of regulations, he did nothing to further the patriot cause. ...in December, 1777 he [Miles] made good use of [this] time as he was reunited with Catherine [see entry before this one, Catherine Miles] at their Spring Mill home. John Wister Miles was born on September 9, 1778. The John Miles branch of the family would lead to me; hence John’s birth takes on greater significance. His Majesty’s Government of King George III is to be thanked for its benevolence. "
Thursday, March 19, 2009
My journey of discovery was equally as exciting and, if you would like, I would be happy to share my bibliography with you. The portraits I have attached are of Philadelphia's Samuel Miles and his wife Catherine. The 1802 Stuart portrait of Samuel Miles is housed in the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington; the other - of Catherine - in Akron, Ohio. .....So - as to my journey ... well, it is almost like a quest for the Holy Grail - taking me up and down the east coast - meeting with the "experts" and finding more and more information to support my claim. From New York City - Philadelphia and the American Philosophical Society; Winterthur, Delaware and the Downs Collection Library; Washington and the Corcoran Gallery and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. It can be a lonely investigative trek, Beth, very lonely - but your portrait has that classic Gilbert Stuart portrait style for men. The women, on the other hand, he did so differently. And therein has been my challenge - but I have not been deterred by what many of the "experts" have had to say. Some say "yes"; others are non-committal - and then there are the naysayers. I have been more intrigued by the history of the woman.....
Catherine Wister Miles (1742-1797) c. 1796
Catherine Wister fell in love with a young soldier of Welsh origin named Samuel Miles, who had seen active service in the French and Indian war and had successfully raised himself from a private to the rank of captain in His Majesty's Service. However John Wister, father of Catherine, considered the young man unsuitable to ask for the hand of his daughter as the Captain did not measure up to the necessary financial and social standards, and, he was not of the Quaker faith. Marriages were definitly not to be defined by love! Samuel Miles had returned to Philadelphia a war hero beaming with pride and resplendent in full regalia and red and gold uniform – Catherine showed her willful determination and strength even at this young age and determined, the young couple were married in February 1761 without parental blessing. Not an auspicious beginning, but eventually Mr. Wister forgave his daughter and backed his son-in-law in the wine and rum trade.
More on Catherine's story, and the attribution, in the next post~ And if you have a similar tale, write me, this is our history and we are proud of it!
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Friday, March 13, 2009
...paint Goethe? was the question by a commentator.
What I can recall, without spending oodles of time right now researching my books (I have a WONDERFUL exhibition book Angelika Kauffmann, 1741-1807 "Eine Dichterin mit dem Pinsel"~ [a poetess with a brush] is that yes she did, but neither Angelica nor Goethe were satisfied with the result, the result being that this painting is not well-known.
Portrait painting was considered to be the highest of the high in art, precisely because it is SO DIFFICULT to achieve a precise likeness of the sitter.
The painting that IS well known of Goethe is that done by Johann H. W. Tischbein pictured here (above), and I give the whole name of the painter (seen above image) because he stems from a painting family of Tischbeins.
Now, note carefully in this painting, Goethe's resemblance to The Skater by Stuart (see entry 2/1/09 & Goethe by Tischbein 2/7/09). Robust and healthy physique, contemplative, out enjoying nature, in Tischbein Goethe is taking a break from a long walk in the countryside of Rome, in Stuart William Grant is also "getting away from it all". Goethe in his early days in the small dukedom of Weimar, walked hill and dale, and loved it. Walking as a form of transportation was very common...
Tischbein met Goethe in 1786 in Italy, and these two also became good friends, travelling together, sketching and painting the Roman ruins.
[more on the Goethe and Charlotte von Stein story] Goethe loved this trip, but did not realize the extent of Charlotte's unhappiness that he left for the trip during the dark of night, without even telling her (thus she suffered the humiliation of not being able to tell her friends whither her intimate friend had gone), and then stayed away from Weimar for two years (which was unplanned). But Goethe needed this break, for perhaps he knew, that the relationship had .....no.....realistic future. But also the fact is Goethe had dreamed about this trip from the time he was a boy. So the perfect storm was reached, he left, and broke a ten year intimacy apart.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
This is one of Gilbert's earliest portraits, of his good friend in Newport RI Benjamin Waterhouse who went on to develop the smallpox vaccine introduced to America in 1800. It was painted in 1775 when Gibby was 20. According to Barratt & Miles in Gilbert Stuart p. 22 ...Stuart "studied his friend's face to a degree unprecedented in his previous work. He achieved a variety of flesh tones, glossy and matte areas on the complexion, and modelling of the head and adjacent hand, replete with folds and sinew, so convicingly that Waterhouse's cheek convincingly rests on his knuckles. Stuart mimicked Copely....." These authors then show the portrait of Paul Revere by John Singleton Copely, but I think the Copely portrait is not as.... simlar to Benjamin Waterhouse.....
as Angelica's portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds (see below entry 3/11). Darn similar! The same positioning of the hand on the cheek, play of shadow and light, luminescence of the skin: The Copely portrait was done in 1769, and Angelica's 1767. Surely the portrait of Joshua Reynolds would be just as well known, if not more well known, than the Copely portrait? Perhaps Angelica had some ...influence?
Well, I am not an expert, but it sure is fun to speculate....
In my next entry (I think!), I will give the Provenance of Samuel Meeker. The provenance of a painting, aka history of ownership, is what helps to lend authenticity to a particular work.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
....lovely Lily and I went over to my cousin Craig's to visit with family in San Francisco. There we talked, walked in Golden Gate park, and, then, well, I felt like Sir Joshua Reynolds--the Royal Academy president and principal painter to King George III, who sat for Stuart in 1784, when he was 61. To quote a description of this portrait from the book Gilbert Stuart by Barratt & Miles: "he [Joshua] is aged, weak in the jaw, obviously deaf, and shown without allusion to his profession. ...Sir Joshua rejected the image, protesting that ‘if [Stuart's portrait] was like him, he did not know his own appearance!’ ”
Joshua Reynolds by Gilbert Stuart 1784, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
From Lawrence Park (see entry 2/20/09 "Sketch of Gibby & ...who is Lawrence Park?);
This celebrated English portrait painter was born July 16, 1723, at Plympton, in Devonshire. His father was the Reverand Samuel Reynolds, and his mother, Theophila, daughter of Matthew Potter. Studied under Thomas Hudson in London from 1740 to 1743. In 1749 he went to Italy and lived for two years in Rome. In 1752 he returned, via Paris, to London, and his brilliant career of forty years followed. In 1768 he was one of the founders of the Royal Academy, London, and became its first president . The same year he was knighted.
This portrait by Stuart caused consternation and dismay (besides of course the usual admiration)! Why? Instead of holding a brush or palette, he is holding a golden snuff box (and note, right hand, holding a pinch of snuff between thumb and forefinger!). What is a snuff box? A box which holds tobacco to be sniffed/snuffed. More on this topic later, regarding our celebrated American artist.
Stuart was only 29 at the time of this painting.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Even armed with my digital print out of Edward S. by Gilbert Stuart (see 2/27/09 "I knew...then..."), my confusion continued to reign on the identity of the artist who painted Samuel Meeker. After the editor of the Peale papers stated my portrait was not by CW Peale (see 3/4/09 "Misattribution"), I was still not convinced that the portrait was by Stuart, for there was the Problem of the Timeline. At left one can see on my 'Stow worksheet' the doodle "gone from Am[erica] went to England"-that refers to Stuart. & "timing is off!"
So I next turned to John Trumbull as the possible painter. In fact, the portrait of George Washington...was not Totally Dissimilar.....??
It did not occur to me that I was CHASING the WRONG Samuel Meeker.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Monday, March 2, 2009
Ms Evans wrote The Genius of Gilbert Stuart, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1999
Is the Portrait a copy? No.
You're right. It is by Gilbert Stuart, or, because I'm not seeing
it in the flesh, it is a careful copy of a Stuart. You can date it on
the probable age of the sitter and his location (when it could have
overlapped Stuart), but it looks, from the costume and the painting
style, to date from about 1800.
Art History Department
Sunday, March 1, 2009
But back to my mom for the moment. She is pictured above at her marriage in Carmel, Ca April 1949... Pops is behind her; who many years later lived with my parents before passing away, and because of his request, the Portrait was hung in my mom's small sitting room. These two are direct descendents of Phebe Meeker, twin sister of the sitter. Pop's mother Carrie brought the Portrait from New Jersey to California. Nowadays mom is healthy, reasonably wealthy, and certainly wise, and we had a great Mexican feast to celebrate.
Here is a small bio she wrote for the Senior complex where she now happily resides;
My name is Carolyn [Cory] Ahrens, and I’m a native Californian going back three generations. I was brought up in Carmel, attended Carmel High, UC Berkeley, and graduated from Stanford in 1949. There I met my late husband John, and we had three children before moving to Asia because of John’s job with Bank of Anerica. We lived a total of 17 years in Tokyo, Ashiya, Bangkok, Bombay, and Manila. I very much enjoyed exploring new cultures, making new friends, and travelling throughout Asia and Europe. After we returned, we settled in Menlo Park, and about a year ago I moved to Santa Cruz where all my children, and grandchildren are presently living. I enjoy family, bridge, reading, and taking walks with my dog Sophie.
But, the sketch also has something super endearing about it.
I will frame it~