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;