Friday, June 25, 2010

Who commissioned the Lansdown portrait of George Washington? Why, the belle of Philly, Anne Willing Bingham! & the meaning of "Landsdown"

Anne Willing Bingham 1797 by Gilbert Stuart in private collection

wearing a pendant portrait of her husband and acclaimed by Abigail Adams as "taken altogether... the finest woman I ever saw."

The Landsdown portrait of George Washington

by Gilbert Stuart

In the post-Revolutionary period, Anne Willing Bingham became the arbiter of fashion and intellectual conversation at her home in Philadelphia. “....the house [not Landsdown] along with its formal gardens ocupied most of the ground west to Fourth Street and north to Willing’s Alley. Its marble stairs among similar features gave the house the “Roman air” now in fashion. [Note; recall the Roman statues in the garden of Fountain Green, country estate of Meeker?] ‘The chairs in the drawing-room were from Seddon’s in London of the newest taste, the back in the form of a lyre, with festoons, of yellow and crimson silk. The curtains of the room a festoon of the same. The carpet, one of Moore’s most expensive patterns. The room papered in the French taste, after the style of the Vatican in Rome’ The mirrors lining the parlors reflected social gatherings rivaling in prestige those of the president’s mansion itself.” {quote from “Houses and Early Life in Philadelphia” by Grant Miles Simon}

(con.) The lady of the house, Anne Willing Bingham, had married in 1780, when she was sixteen and her husband twenty-eight. From 1783-1786 the Binghams had traveled in England and on the continent, where Anne captivated and was captivated by the courts of St. Jame’s, Versailles, and the Hague. Rich, attractive, intelligent, shrewd, witty, and elegantly dressed, Mrs. Bingham was welcomed to the fashionable salons of the European capitals and began to form the notion of presiding over a salon of her own in Philadelphia." (from “Philadelphia a 300-year history” W.W. Norton & Co. N.Y. 1982)

Landsdown country estate

Lansdown (from “Country seats of the United States” William Russell Birch) “Lies upon the bank of the Pastoral Schuylkill, a stream of peculiar beauty, deservedly the delight and boast of the shores it fertilizes. The house was built upon a handsome and correct plan by the former governor Penn. .... William Bingham and wife, Anne (nee Willing) rented Landsdown as their country house in the summers. The Binghams were among the wealthiest citizens of the new republic and central figures in the “Federalist Court” of George Washington’s tenure in office in Philadelphia. They purchased the property in 1797 at a sheriff’s sale [Note; Meeker also bought Fountain Green on the banks of the Schuylkill at auction in 1799 upon financial distress of the previous owner] after speculator James Greenleaf had to liquidate assets to meet his creditor’s demands. ......The house was largely destroyed by fire in the middle of the nineteenth century and was demolished completely before the Centennial.”

Saturday, June 19, 2010

an AHA moment. (no sunscreen, etc)

Yesterday was nothing special or out of the ordinary, as usual watching the news on a Fri. eve (love the Shields-Brooks match up on the PBS Nightly report) when my brother Paul's girlfriend gave me a call. She wanted to drop by to show me some photoportraits of herself she had done in celebration of her 50ieth. Very nice! A lady after my heart for besides being fit (yet still brought over MaryAnn's ice cream), we ended up talking about loving things of the past and soon enough were talking about Meeker who hangs on my livingroom wall. She says, "There are two different colors in the face." and I am thinking of my response which would have been something along the lines of well yes Stuart was known for his ability to achieve translucence of the skin...............when she adds "Like, he was wearing a hat!".

I had never thought of it before, as obvious a point as it is!!! Yes, so many of Stuart's male sitters have the ruddy cheeks and whitish forehead; exactly, men were outside so much of the time, on horseback when going from one place to another thereby their hat was most likely a daily necessity (and no sun screen!), the women were inside, or when outside with hats/parasols so their faces are uniformly pale (or with the delicate blush).... and Stuart depicted the exact reality as was his norm....


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mrs. TIMOTHY PICKERING (the random monthly pick)

Rebecca White, aka Mrs. Timothy Pickering, was born in England and came over to this country in 1765 at age 11. Eleven years later (1776) she married Col. Timothy Pickering~a graduate of Harvard in 1763, admitted to the bar in 1768, & joined Washington's army in 1777. This prominent gentleman was Secretary of War in 1795, and was a Massachusetts state senator from 1803-1811.

The couple had 10 children, 8 sons and the two youngest were daughters.

"THERE is no more beautiful example of Stuart's skill than this portrait of Mrs. Timothy Pickering, painted between 1816 and 1818. Mrs. Pickering is represented seated in so natural an attitude that there is no suggestion of being "posed." Her black silk gown with folds of soft muslin about the throat, her cap of the same sheer material, trimmed with lace, and the ermine-bordered mantle of a delicious shade of old rose color which has fallen from her shoulders, are all painted with a care and finish seldom bestowed by Stuart upon the accessories of his portraits, while on the finely modeled face with its delicate flesh-tones his brush has evidently lingered with loving touch."

Masters in Art; a series of illustrated monographs. Bates and Guild Co, Boston 1906. p 37

From Lawrence Park:
Boston. Begun in 1816 and finished in 1818. Half-length, seated slightly to the right, in a carved gilded Empire chair, with her brown eyes to the spectator. Her hair is completely hidden by a white lace-trimmed handkerchief worn as a turban. She wears a black silk dress with a white muslin kerchief open at the throat, showing a necklace of pearls, and fastened with a lozenge-shaped ruby pin; an old rose velvet cloak trimmed with ermine surrounds her body and lies in folds on her lap, where it is held by her right hand, on the third finger of which is a gold ring. The backgound is plain, of greenish-brown and gray tones, with a narrow pilaster showing at the right.
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