Saturday, September 12, 2009

the Stuart frame continued..."wood type and quality, bole color, gold leafing method".... THE PLOT THICKENS

the German influence and the importance of context
I sent this photo to the conservator in my last letter, so that he could see the profile of the frame, and have a more detailed view of the gold-leafing.
On Fri, Sep 4 I wrote the expert back:
Dear Hugh,

Thanks so much for your input on my questions about the frame.
Yet now, I do have a couple more questions for you. I wonder what makes you believe that, "based on the picture, the frame is not original"?
There exist at least two G. Washington portraits with the same frame (suggested to be original with the portrait) ("reeded top moulding with cross straps, a plain deep cove, a bead and flat liner")-- and this would be a few years before the painting of my portrait which I figure was done about 1803. I also have no reason to believe that some generations back someone in the family changed the frame...
re: "it has been lined and fitted with a later stretcher" What does the word "lined" mean?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~He wrote back 5 days later (I am ALWAYS appreciative of replies):

Dear Beth,
I have not forgotten your frame question. I say "based on the picture" because I get so much more information by looking at the object, for example, details like wood type and quality, bole color, gold leafing method, shade of gold, quality of compo or any carving, etc. A view of the outer edge would also be helpful to see if it is coved, the shape of the cove, whether it is painted or gilded, etc. The pattern of nail holes caused by holding the stretcher in the frame also can be considered.

Then there is the question of whether the frame is American or an English import. Reeded top moldings with ribbon bindings occur in the UK around 1800, but I believe they are not generally popular here till circa 1860. Again, based on the pictures, the frame appears to be American.

The lining of a painting involves adding a new support (often canvass) to the back, and I only mention it in passing. The replaced stretcher is more relevant; an original stretcher can be a significant help in determining whether a frame is original, and in this case that information is now lost.

I hope this helps. As I continue to study American frames I will remember your question and will let you know of any new information.

Best, Hugh


This response was informative. I had never even thought of the issue, is the frame American or English? (Although as has already been mentioned, the issue of whether the canvas is American or British has been raised, it is British.) I decided to write back with details as to why I think the frame is most likely original, and thereby (according to Hugh) most likely British. Afterall, is the context not of high interest? To study something out of the context can not aid in understanding it seems to me. (Another example of this is the fact that in almost all studies/bios of Stuart, it seems that minimal attention is paid to the fact that there was a significant German immigration/population in Philadelphia at the time ("Germantown"), that at this time Goethe was the blazing cultural star.....{possible influence on the concept of the "Skater"?})

I wrote back:

Dear Hugh,

All very interesting, thanks for taking an interest in this, etc! If I could bring the portrait to you, I would, but it is not really feasible because both I and the portrait are in Santa Cruz, Ca. So..... when do you take trips to San Francisco, if ever? I would invite you over for the day in Santa Cruz, and then you could study the portrait!

The sitter in this Stuart portrait is Samuel Meeker (if you wikipedia him, I am the one who wrote a small entry), and in the late 1790s he had a shipping firm in Philadelphia called Meeker, Denman & Co-- his cousin William Meeker (also painted by Stuart) was their agent in London. William died in 1812, 'en route to New Orleans' so I believe that he died on the way home to the states from England, possibly as a tragic event due to the war of 1812. Samuel was a leading shipping merchant, and its very possible that the ships that took American goods out to Liverpool, brought back English items. Possibly frames? This type of reeded frame with cross straps was the original put on Stuart's G. Washington frame which was painted late 1790s, so surely it was/became popular before the 1860s?

There has been some compo repairs to some of the decor on this Meeker frame, when it fell over on its face, at my mom's house. She had taken it off the wall in her house because the walls were about to be painted! But otherwise I would have no reason to believe that any family member back to my gt grandmother would have decided to put this frame on the portrait, altho its possible. Going back further, my gt grandmother's gt grandmother Phoebe Meeker was gifted the portrait by her twin brother Samuel Meeker--Phoebe ended up getting a divorce so she would not have changed the frame, nor her daughter..... Somehow just thinking about this logically, it doesn't make sense that anyone other than the "wealthy sitter" purchased this frame in about 1803... 1803 was the last year Stuart was in Philadelphia, 1803 was the year the newly formed bank in which Meeker was one of the Directors (the Philadelphia National Bank, see book by Wainright) gave its first loan to Meeker, Denman & Co., 1803 was the year the twins Samuel and Phoebe turned 40... It just seems to be logical that Samuel might have been pleased to have the same frame put on his portrait as George did....Its very, very easy to imagine. Meeker liked to show every evidence of success, he even owned a country estate on the Schuylkill.
What I am telling you here, took years to piece together. Other Stuart sitters ... are more well-known...

Yes, I have been doing lots of research, since the portrait came from my mom to me. The frame is something I am no expert on, thats why what you have to say is so interesting. Its hard to take good quality photos close up--the two photos of the back which I sent you were taken with a high resolution camera. In my opinion there is no carving...It seems to me the only part not gilded is the outmost smallish part of the frame~ Is there a way I can photograph that would be more helpful? What does 'bole color' mean?
I am sending a new pic which should be at the bottom of this note, which should give you an idea of the profile and a closer look at the leafing.

Have a very good day,
remaining your obedient servant

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