Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jane Stuart, daughter of Gilbert Stuart; an artist in her own right & 'irritable temperament'...

Mrs. William Bailey, by Jane Stuart
courtesy Redwood Library and Athenaeum

The Stark Mansion: "Flowers, books, old-fashioned furniture, and pictures of the choicest are everywhere. A fine portrait of General John Stark, painted in 1830 by S. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, is hung on the wall at the right. Facing the door another beautiful portrait is seen. This is of Miss Charlotte Stark and was done by Jane Stuart, the daughter of Gilbert Stuart." (The third picture is of Daniel Webster, who had his miniature done by Goodridge as you, my readers, might remember!) Historic Homes of New England, Mary Northend; Little, Brown, & Co., Boston, 1914.

As a young girl Jane would go to her father's studio to help him with chores including the grinding of pigments. She would listen to her father instructing his students, and in time she started copying some of his paintings. In 1827 she had one of her paintings exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum. She was 15. When her father died the next year, deeply in debt and leaving an estate valued at only $375, Jane became financially responsible for the family and began selling copies of her father's paintings, particularly portraits of Washington.

The Redwood Library (Redwood Library and Athenaeum, 50 Bellevue Ave., Newport RI) has organized what may be the first exhibit of Jane Stuart’s paintings since her death 1888. It ends soon!

Newport's Own: Portraits by Jane Stuart

"A collaborative exhibition of the work of artist Jane Stuart (1808 - 1888) by the Redwood, Newport Historical Society, Preservation Society of Newport County, with additional paintings on loan from the Newport Art Museum, the Boston Athenaeum, the Museum of Art RISD, Peabody Essex Museum, and the State of Rhode Island. Guest curated by Linda Eppich, Archivist / Grant Writer at The Preservation Society of Newport County. Covering the period of the 1840s to the late 1870s, the exhibition includes 16 original portraits and copy work by Jane Stuart, plus biographical information about the sitters. The 12th child of Gilbert and Charlotte Stuart, she was a leading portrait painter in Newport. Although she never received any formal training, she was a key assistant to and regarded as the best copyist of Gilbert Stuart. Jane Stuart exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum as early as 1827, and had an exhibition at the American Academy of Fine Arts in New York in 1833. We are unaware of any exhibition devoted to Jane Stuart since her death in 1888, and this exhibition is an attempt to bring greater recognition to this 19th century artist."
From Curator Linda Eppich: "In addition to her painting, Jane was also the keeper of her father’s flame. In fact, much of what we know about Gilbert Stuart comes from a series of reminiscences written by Jane and published in Scribner’s Monthly magazine. In one such article, titled “Anecdotes of Gilbert Stuart,” Jane concedes that her father had an “irritable temperament,” but justifies it by pointing to the constant flow of visitors that passed through his studio. “While he was engaged with his whole soul in portraying the character of some remarkable person, his door would be besieged by persons who must see him, and, frequently, for the most trifling purpose,” she recalled. “At times he would be so disturbed as not to feel like going into his painting-room again for the whole day.”
I'm sure we can ....all ...relate!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Samuel Meeker's villa Fountain Green; what is a "villa"?: &...The villa becomes a Brewery!

Fountain Green became a popular rural hotel/restaurant in the 1830s and later was taken over by the famous Engel & Wolf brewery which carved its cooling vaults directly from the rock ledges below the mansion.

The house termed "villa" is an architectural style that has been essentially lost, mainly because one of the characteristics of a 'villa' was that it be built in the countryside, but within reachable distance of a city. This feature put villas at risk as eighteenth century cities, such as Philadelphia, expanded. The owners of villas enjoyed the cooler airs of the countryside, pretty vistas and large gardens, and most of all, escaped the rounds of disease that swept through big cities. Philadelphia suffered severe outbreaks of yellow fever (see entry Aug 15 09, Washington rented a villa on the Schuylkill River in about 1777 during the yellow fever outbreaks in Philadelphia.)

The villa also offered opportunity for display; besides using his villa to entertain, perhaps inviting guests to stay the night during fox hunting weekends (more on that later)....I speculate it was here that Sam chose to celebrate his 40th birthday with his twin sister Phebe in 1803, Fountain Green would have offered the perfect setting for the gifting of a Gilbert Stuart portrait!

A description of a villa garden from 1762:
"....From the front of this hall you have a prospect bounded by the Jerseys like a blue ridge. A broad walk of English Cherry trees leads down to the river. The doors of the house opening opposite admit a prospect of the length of the garden over a broad gravel walk to a large handsome summer house on a green. From the windows a vista is terminated by an obelisk. On the right you enter a labyrinth of hedge of low cedar and the middle stands a statue of Apollo...." (taken from Historic Houses of Philadelphia by Roger Moss, U. of PA Press, Philadelphia 1998.)

Samuel Meeker's country estate is mentioned in histories of Philadelphia

“Fountain Green, the seat next beyond the Cliffs, originally belonged to Samuel Mifflin. The grounds ran over to what was called Mifflin’s Lane. Mr. Mifflin died in 1781, and Samuel Meeker became the owner and lived there many years during the present century; Casper W. succeeded him. After the old mansions on the Schuylkill were deserted Fountain Green was known as “Engel & Wolf’s farm,” and was occuped near the railroad by that firm for brewing purposes. The old Mifflin-Meeker Mansion was used as a restaurant and for the accomodation of picnic-parties and social gatherings. ” (History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 by T Scharf, T Westcott pub L.H. Everts & Co. Philadelphia 1884.)

Stay tuned for what Samuel's villa Fountain Green looked like, before it was turned into a brewery!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bill Parson Meeker; a sad fate, but his image survives, testimony to troubled times

portrait of William Parson Meeker by Gilbert Stuart
Image courtesy of James D. Julia Auctioneers

His name, formally, was William Parson Meeker, he never married, and died too early, in his forties. He surely played together with cousins Samuel and Phebe Meeker when they were children in the Westfields of New Jersey. Their fathers were brothers, the family respected & well-established; reputations of handsomeness and strength made during the time of the Revolution and the first progenitor William Meeker a founding associate of the state of New Jersey.
The description by Lawrence Park of the portrait of William Meeker describes him as being an agent in London, implying that he was British. The truth is, after joining together with Samuel and another family friend from NJ, (Denman), he was chosen as the one to handle the shipping business of "Meeker, Denman & Co." on the other side of the Atlantic. Goods were shipped out of New Orleans destined for Liverpool. Perhaps Bill arranged for British goods to be sent back. I suspect that he was on a ship, returning to the States, which met an ill fate due to the War of 1812. This is why no precise date for his death can be found, only '(d.1812)'. "Between 1803 and 1812 the US lost nearly 1500 ships just to the British and French." (*Chronology of the US Navy 1775-1965 David M. Cooney; published by Franklin Watts Inc., New York, 1965.) Most likely Bill went to London after being painted by Stuart. Money was flush in Philadelphia at the turn of the century, before relations deteriorated with France and England leading to war (remember, Dolly saved the portrait of Washington in 1812 before the advances of the British! see entry May 26,09.)

More on the shipping firm "Meeker, Denman & Co", the war, and Samuel's work, later. Suffice it to say, his cousin met a tragic fate.

The portrait of Bill was bought by a man who made his fortune in the shipping business. It is logical that David Z. Norton would be interested in a Stuart portrait of an individual who was involved in the shipping business himself! Norton was a millionaire and retired ore shipper, he died in 1928. He was a “patron and lover of music and art and he has a fine and valuable collection of paintings.”* History of the Western Reserve by Harriet Upton, Lewis Pub. Co Chicago, 1910
What became of the portrait afterwards was unknown, but a couple of weeks ago, I was reading Antiques Magazine, saw an advertisement for an auction, and one of the highlights.... is.... a Gilbert Stuart portrait. Of WILLIAM PARSON MEEKER! His image survives, testament to the troubled early times in this nation's history.
It is found now. And hopefully the new owner (if it sells) will make contact!!

Below is the FULL description of the portrait as described by the auction company James D. Julia Auctioneers; "Our Annual End of the Summer Spectacular Maine Auction Auction: August 25, 2009"

GILBERT CHARLES STUART (American, 1755-1828) PORTRAIT OF WILLIAM MEEKER. Oil on canvas half portrait of a young man wearing a blue/black coat with small brass buttons, a very high white neck cloth and a ruffled white shirt. The light brown hair is brushed back with curls at the neck. The background with greenish/olive tones becoming a warm brown. Right center with a possible initial signature. REFERENCE: No. 543 in the Catalog Raisonne of Stuart's Works compiled by Lawrence Park and published in 1926. Listed as owned by David Z. Norton of Cleveland, Ohio. William Meeker was a London shipping agent for the London firm "Meeker and Denman" and this was probably painted in London between June 1775 and October 1787. REFERENCE: Exhibited at "Cleveland Art Loan Exhibition, Cleveland, 1913 No. 160A". Housed in a fine gilt gesso decorated frame with metal artist plaque. SIZE: Sight: 28" x 23". PROVENANCE: From a fine Sudbury, MA home. CONDITION: Very good, restored, relined with inpainting. 9-96953 (20,000-30,000)

So what does "restored, relined with inpainting" mean in this case?

Is another artist able to "restore" Stuart's work with the appropriate skill? “Lining with inpainting” means that a new canvas was added to the back, and that paint losses on the front were touched up by adding modern pigment, judiciously (one hopes).

I have written the auction company to ask if there is a more detailed provenance, they have not yet written back. It would also be of interest to find out how much inpainting has been done. And, there is a possible signature 'Right center" ? (Or is that the owner's wishful thinking!)


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Matthias Meeker, father of William (cousin of Samuel), gives hope during the plague of 1793, William Parson Meeker cont.

Matthias Meeker (1744-1832), father of William Parson Meeker and brother of the sitter’s father Captain Samuel Meeker, leads Springfield NJ in giving hope to the citizens of Philadelphia in 1793.

The yellow fever raged through Philadelphia in the year 1793 and the citizens could find no refuge in other cities and towns…

“While our citizens were proscribed in several cities and towns—hunted up like felons in some— debarred admittance and turned back in others….it is with extreme satisfaction I have to record a conduct totally different, which ought to make a strong impression on the minds of the people of Philadelphia, and call forth lively emotions of gratitude.
…At Woodbury, in NJ, at an early period of the disorder, a meeting was held for the purpose of determining on what steps were requisite to be taken…A respectable number of the inhabitants of Springfield, in NJ, met and after full consideration of the distresses of our citizens, passed a resolve, offering their town as an asylum to the people flying from Philadelphia and directing their committee to provide a suitable place as an hospital for the sick. The Rev. J. Artsdalen, Matthias Meeker, and Matthias Denman, took the lead in this honourable business.” From "Miscellaneous Essays Matthew Carey" ~Originally published Philadelphia, 1830~ Ayer Publishing 1966 p. 64
William Parson Meeker, first cousin to Samuel and involved in the firm of Meeker, Denman & Co. of Philadelphia, was also painted by Gilbert Stuart (see last two entries). The similarity of dress in the two portraits of William and Samuel~ high neck cloth, ruffled shirt, waistcoat and overcoat, and hair pulled back with a ribbon …provides compelling indication that the two portraits were painted at about the same time. It may be speculated that these two men, the 'older gentleman and his younger cousin', flush with family/new-found wealth and co-partners in their shipping firm, commissioned Stuart to do their “likeness”. This signaled the ultimate in social and economic success. Appropriately, Samuel Meeker, being older and I speculate the head of the firm, commissioned a slightly more formal, expensive portrait (with accents of sky, drapery, and paperwork in his hand.)

This room, in a five-bay, two-and-one-half-story stuccoed stone house with gable roof, built by Mr. Deshler in Germantown on the Schuylkill River in about 1777, was rented to President Washington during the yellow fever outbreaks in Philadelphia.
Here you can see how a portrait was typically hung in this time period. The portrait of Isaac Franks (1759-1822) (above fireplace mantel) is by Gilbert Stuart.

From Lawrence Park:

Colonel Isaac Franks
Portrait by Gilbert Stuart Germantown 1802

Isaac Franks was a son of Moses and Sarah Franks of New York City, and served under Washington during the whole of the Revolution, during which he received several wounds. After the peace of 1783 he filled various civil commissions. In 1782 he married Mary Davison of Philadelphia, and lived in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and at the time of his death was prothonotary of the Supreme Court of Philadelphia. About 1805 he removed to Ephrata, and about 1815 to Philadelphia. It was to Franks' house in Germantown that Washington retired from Philadelphia during the yellow fever epidemic.

It can be easily speculated that Samuel Meeker and others from the family retired to their country villa on the banks of the Schuylkill River. This villa was called "Fountain Green." More on that later!


Monday, August 10, 2009

The portrait of Samuel's long lost cousin William P Meeker, has come to light, continued

<< the black and white photograph of the Stuart portrait of William Meeker in the Lawrence Park volume
I had no idea that the four volume set by Lawrence Park existed, giving written descriptions of all known Stuart portraits at the time (compiled 1926) in Vol I and II, and black and white photographs of these portraits in Vol III and IV.

Not until Dorinda Evans, author of "The Genius of Gilbert Stuart" wrote me (Oct 06), referring to my portrait of Samuel Meeker:
Is he related, by chance, to William Meeker (d. 1812) whose portrait by Stuart has been known for a long time? See the illustration of Meeker in Lawrence Park's four volume work on Stuart (1926). It's in vol. 2 (catalogue text) and vol. 4 (ill.).

This was the first I had ever heard of these volumes! (There is ALWAYS a beginning for everything!)

With her expertise, she made an effort to find the William P Meeker portrait, writing me further:
In trying to find the current owner, I found that it is not in the Smithsonian's inventory of American painting (online). They often pick up on what has passed through dealers' hands in the past twenty-five years. The other archive I would check is the Frick Art Reference Library in New York. They have an online catalogue of their photographic archive of Stuart's work. Also they take questions daily from 10-12 am at 212-288-8700. On their photo mounts, they try to keep up with current owners, but usually it is all quite old.

(and in the same letter) In any case, this second portrait links the family to Stuart and is supporting evidence that yours is by Stuart, but the attribution of yours is fairly obvious anyway. Stuart, by the way, rarely signed.

I went to the Stanford University Library where I had found out I could look at the Park volumes. They were brought up from below in a special small elevator and brought to me in white gloves, I could not check them out of the library. I looked at them very reverently, trying to glean clues. But it was all so overwhelming. And, underwhelming, to be truthful. But indeed there was the black and white photo of the William Meeker portrait, and Dorinda also wrote:
Like your ancestor, this Meeker is also a handsome man as Stuart portrays him.

Two and a half years later, the William Meeker portrait is found. Because it is being auctioned at the end of this month!
Lawrence Park description; "The present owner of this portrait was told at the time of its purchase that William Meeker was a member of the London firm of Meeker & Denman, shipping agents, and that he died en route to New Orleans in 1812." Interestingly, somewhat unfortunately, Park does not give a date to the painting.
I have never found William Meeker's birthdate, so I can not accurately say his age at the time his portrait might have been done. He was the second child of Matthias Meeker and his younger brother was born in 1771, so we can speculate he was born c.1769. If the painting was done about the same time as Samuel Meeker, which I believe to be in 1803, then he would be aged about mid 30s, younger than my Samuel who was born in 1763 (age 40 in the portrait.)
I DO know that Meeker, Denman & Co. did not exist until after 1796. The firm was located at

#20 South Front St. Philadelphia

Monday, August 3, 2009

Samuel's long lost cousin William Parson Meeker, has come to light, a portrait by Stuart

Yesterday was momentous for me, I found the portrait of William P Meeker, who is the first cousin of my Samuel Meeker.

Their grandfather was Samuel Meeker (1716-1757) married to Rachel, they had 3 sons Capt. Samuel, Matthias, and Benjamin.

My Samuel is the son of Capt. Samuel, and William Parson was the son of Matthias. The family was well-established in the Westfields New Jersey, but my Samuel, his twin sister Phebe, and William P all migrated over to the big city, Philadelphia.

I found the portrait because it will be offered at auction the end of this month, by "James D. Julia Auctioneers."

Two years ago, when it was pointed out to me that the William Meeker portrait was listed in Lawrence Park, I was told that this was also confirming evidence that my portrait of Samuel (not listed in Lawrence Park) was by Gilbert Stuart, as he most often found sitters within particular connected circles, ie within a family. By the time Park found the William P Meeker portrait (his volumes were published in 1926), it was last listed as owned by David Z. Norton of Cleveland, Ohio; it was "Exhibited at "Cleveland Art Loan Exhibition, Cleveland, 1913 No. 160a". Then it seems to have dropped from sight, until, for whatever reason, the family who owns it, has decided NOW to put it on the market. Over a year ago I wrote "Antiques Magazine", and asked if any of their readers might know the whereabouts of the portrait of my Samuel's cousin ....the letter was published online but there was no response. I thought it would be very cool, to be able to compare the two portraits, which, most likely, would have been done in the same time frame...

This portrait has not stood the test of time as well as mine, it seems.
There is much more to tell, about the businesses that Samuel was involved in, the time-lines, pointing out a more precise year for the painting of William P, which is listed by the auctioneers as "probably painted in London between June 1775 and October 1787." This would certainly be too early.

Stay tuned!

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