The occasion was a dance at the highschool in Aptos.
Early 70ies. wow.
THE WORLD OF SAMUEL MEEKER, MERCHANT OF PHILADELPHIA, AND GILBERT STUART, AMERICAN PORTRAIT ARTIST
The story in short; John Bill Ricketts in his brief flash of fortune in America (he was from England) lasting less than 10 years, achieved fame and fortune by his magical ability to peform fantastical acts of daring on his well trained horses - using outlandish tricks, and later featuring other circus performers such as tightrope walkers and clowns. "Long before circuses took on the odor of a crude and common entertainment, Ricketts ... had an air of snob appeal; embraced by all classes, his circus became an especially prestigious venue for the right people to be seen at. After all, Washington, an unabashed fan, attended from time to time through his tenure in office. And the President and Ricketts regularly accompanied each other on rides through the city out into the countryside. Ricketts became such a prominent celebrity that Gilbert Stuart, Washington's portraitist, painted Ricketts, too. Washington even allowed Ricketts to put Jack - the famed white steed he rode through the American Revolution - on display in the amphitheater. Hence, a certain patriotic panache and status boost came with every seat. ......In 1797, Ricketts marked Washington's retirement with a special performance, and later that year, he performed for his friend's presidential successor, John Adams." http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=815
Thus Ricketts meets that special quality which characterizes the majority of Stuart's sitters, a man of action and accomplishment who hobnobbed with the right people, those in the elite and elegant, well-funded social circles. He was in the right place (Philadelphia), and the right time period to cross paths with Stuart. He was multi-talented; besides performing, he built his own circus structures. Just the type of man who might appeal to our artist, who knew so much about everything. And more compelling, the most powerful evidence: The Provenance lists the brother of John Ricketts, Francis Ricketts, as being the first owner (Brown 1861, 320.) The following has been speculated by Ellen Miles: "Stuart undoubtedly painted Ricketts' portrait in Philadelphia, where the circus was based. The portrait remained there, unfinished, after Ricketts left for the West Indies." ("American Paintings of the 18 century" p 210). Is it possible that Stuart didn't complete the portrait, and so whimsically painted the horses' head created from the background, due less to anger than nostalgia that a good friend was gone? Did the portrait remain unfinished because the talented John Ricketts incurred catastrophic financial loss when his circus rotunda building burned to the ground in 1799? His brother was last recorded in the United States in 1810, when he was with the Boston Circus ("American Paintings of the 18 century" p 210), and thus the portrait would have passed to him when John met his death on the oceans in 1803.
But, is it possible the painting was done at a later time, that it was stopped out of frustration with the sitter (Breschard), and that by this time Stuart had become increasingly more willful and temperamental with his sitters corresponding to the extent of his fame? “...the artist, becoming angry at the equestrian, who gave him a good deal of trouble by his want of promptitude and the delays which occurred, is said to have dashed his paintbrush into the face of the portrait, declaring that he would have nothing more to do with him.” J. Thomas Scharf and T. Westcott, History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 (Philadelphia: L.H.Everts and Co. 1884), Vol II, p 1044
For more information on Peter Breschard, who has used original sources in his in-depth investigation on the identification of the sitter in this portrait, he can be found at http://brasseriebreschard.blogspot.com/. He plans on writing a book on this topic and hopes to interest a publisher. He would enjoy any input on the subject!
And thus, I have exhausted all effort here, and leave it to the experts & other researchers to thrash this out, and perhaps take a second look at this re-identification from Breschard to Ricketts.
And in the meantime I have the following suggestion. Perhaps there are more descendents out there, from both the Ricketts and Breschard families. In my own case, I was suddenly astonished to notice that there were remarkable similarities between Meeker and some members of my family; below is an example and more will follow. Check the nose! the chin! can you look at younger pictures of your ancestors and find remarkable/notable similarites to the portrait of Ricketts/Breschard? Send them to me! Lets fly with this mystery, and not be stuck with one mind-set.....
Never forget Stuart's ability to nail an almost photographic image to the canvas.................
Below Benjamin Hyde Cory (1896-1983) my grandfather, gg-grandson of Phebe Meeker (twin sister of Samuel Meeker.)
Samuel Meeker (1763-1831) was a man who seemed to be able to balance his life between the creation of wealth in the financially flourishing city Philadelphia, and the pursuit of happiness in the undisturbed quiet of nature at his country estate "Fountain Green" on the banks of the Schuylkill River. Commerce, vitalized by the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, was let loose in America. Win or lose, that was the risk, and Meeker rose to the challenge.
For a thorough overview of the story of Samuel Meeker, check out my article in the spring issue 2013 of the publication "Financial History." This is a publication connected to the History of Finance Museum at the Smithsonian.
This is a report on Samuel Meeker, the man in the portrait; who he is, the story of the portrait in my family, his ancestors and descendants (including myself and my daughter Lily), and last but not least Gilbert Stuart the artist, his sitters, and their stories. Gradually, with light being shed on these individuals at the turn of the century, life in Philadelphia begins to shine through...the good, the bad, the scintilating, &...the titillating!
For a closer view of a photo or graphic, click directly on it.
As I began to research the identity of the painter of this family portrait (confidently reported by family to be by Peale), I ...1) figured out it was done by the artist Gilbert Stuart and ...2) the character of the artist began to interest me as much as my relative. Thus this report also reflects my continuing fascination with ...Gilbert Stuart...In addition to reading posts, the 'comments' might also be of interest (just click on the word 'comments' at the bottom of the post), to read more relevant info/insights to the posts. Feel free to add your own comments as well! To those of you who make comments on older posts, just beware that I most likely will not see them, but other viewers will.
Ich habe überdies eine grosse Liebe für die Vergangenheit. Nur was sie gewährt, ist ewig und unveränderlich wie der Tod und zugleich wie das Leben warm und beglückend.
Wilhelm von Humboldt
Ein frohes heiteres Gemüt ist die
Quelle alles Edlen and Guten; das
Größte und Schönste, was je geschah,
floß aus einter solchen Stimmung.
Friedrich von Schiller
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