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!)