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