Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Gratz beauties of Philadelphia and the Stuart portrait of their mother

My last monthly pick (as usual a completely random opening of the Lawrence Park volumes and picking the individual upon whom my gaze happens to fall) was a man by the name of Solomon Moses. Every sitter thus far has had a tale to tell, and Solomon was no exception, although the story is less about himself (how unusual!) and more about the stunning woman he married, and her family. Her name was Rachel. Her mother was the daughter of a preeminent Jewish merchant of Lancaster and her father Michael Gratz was descended from a long line of respected rabbis. Rachel was one of TWELVE children, 7 boys and 5 girls. Rachel was the 8th child, born in 1783, she died at the early age of 40, but not before she bore Solomon 9 children. (Park describes her life as "short and unevetful.") The Gratz daughters were known for their beauty. Rachel’s sister Rebecca was famed not only for her stunning looks and thwarted love affair with a non-Jew, but for her good works during her life-time which included founding the first Hebrew Sunday School in America.
Below are the portraits of Rachel, wife of Solomon Moses, painted about the time of her wedding, her sister Rebecca painted by Thomas Sully, and her mother Miriam by GS.
Mrs. Solomon Moses (Rachel Gratz)
Boston, 1806 Gilbert Stuart
The original painting by Gilbert Stuart is on loan at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia


Stunning Sully (her portrait was not done by Stuart) portrait of sister Rebecca Gratz (1781-1869).
Rebecca never married.

"When at last Sully was offered the opportunity to paint his patroness he depicted her as a regal lady of fashion gazing pensively into the middle distance. In doing so he caught for posterity the thoughtful woman who developed and managed good works as well as the wealthy woman who loved clothes and knew how to use them to enhance her good looks."

Mrs. Michael Gratz (mother of Rachel and Rebecca)
Philadelphia 1802, Gilbert Stuart

from Rebecca Gratz & 19th-Century America: " 'In 1802 Miriam Gratz, Rebecca's mother, acceded to the requests of her children that she have her portrait painted. Rebecca went with her for her first sitting and wrote to her friend Maria Fenno about the experience. From a position "behind Stewart's chair" (that would be Gilbert Stuart she's talking about) she marveled "to see a countenance so dear to my heart appear on a board which but a few minutes before was a...piece of mahogany." She was struck by the resemblance and animation she saw in the work.

Miriam Gratz died suddenly in 1808, leaving her family in profound grief. Her husband Michael had suffered from depression for years, then sustained a stroke in 1800 from which he made a very partial recovery. He was as dependent on her as any of her children. Rebecca wrote to Maria in 1809: "We have indeed shut up our greatest treasure, the portrait of our beloved Mother, but we often visit it to weep over features too deeply graven on our hearts to require even the painter's skill to preserve. When first we were deprived of this best of parents I daily visited her picture, and felt that my only consolation was to gaze on it. But one day my father went into the room and was so overcome by looking at it, that we determined to sacrifice our wishes of having it constantly before us and close the room where it hangs.' "

from Lawrence Park:

Mrs Michael Gratz 1750-1808

Miriam, daughter of Joseph and Rosa (Bunn) Simon. She married in 1769 Michael Gratz (1740-1811), a Philadelphia merchant. Her daughter Rachel (1782-1823), Mrs. Solomon Moses, was painted by Stuart, and her husband and well-known daughter Rebecca were painted by Sully.

(I don't normally continue with the Park description of the portrait but do so here.)

Philadelphia, 1802. She is shown half-length, seated, three-quarters right, in a high, square-backed upholstered chair, studded with brass-headed nails, with her brown eyes directed to the spectator. A white lace ruffled cap with a white satin bow in front, gives only a glimpse of her hair. She wears a low-necked black dress, with a white muslin tucker, exposing the throat, and with loose sleeves reaching half-way between her elbows and wrists. About her neck is a short necklace. Her hands are brought together on her lap. In the background, a strip of light walnut panelled wall shows at the right, draped with a crimson curtain.


Maureen said...

I'm still reading a book about the history of New York, and this period was so interesting. Dd he paint anyone in NYC?

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jewishspectacles said...

thank you for this post. Rebecca Gratz is one of my role models and this is the first time I got a glimpse of her mom!

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