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.”


Susan Sklaroff said...

I am delighted to tell you that Gilbert Stuart's portrait of Anne Willing Bingham was given last year to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where you can see it when you come to Philadelphia.

At the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia there is a portrait of Anne's daughter Maria Bingham Baring, by an unknown artist. Maria eloped at fifteen with a fortune-hunter, was divorced at 17, and continued a turbulent life.

Since there is always a Gratz angle for me, I mention that the Gratz family rented Lansdown (the Binghams having gone to England) in the summer of 1802 to get away from the yellow fever in the city.

All this reminds me that Rebecca Gratz discussed Maria Bingham's elopement in a letter. You have inspired me to post the story on my blog. Thanks.

liebesreime said...

Hi Susan, what a truckload of neat just makes me cringe that I have only 3 days in Philly, I have to plan so carefully but feel already that frustration is in store! But at least I am staying at a neat place, Spruce Hill Manor. Can't Wait. expensive tho! But, worth every penny in my mind...
So sad that Landsdown went up in flames, I have info that Fountain Green went up in flames too, which kind of makes sense because I tried to determine what part of the brewery that came afterwards was incorporated into the house (Fountain Green), but could make no sense of the structures. I think in its time Fountain Green was just as famous as Landsdown, I have found some interesting info on it. First things first...

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