Friday, January 21, 2011

one of his 'finest portraits of men' & "...we cannot but regret that Stuart did not sometimes ... leave us American landscapes"

Two posts back I described a noted Philadelphian socialite considered a beauty in her time (Mrs. Samuel Blodget); today I introduce her father Dr. William Smith. Lawrence Park says of the Stuart portrait of Dr. Smith, “This is one of the finest portraits of men Stuart painted in this country.” Very fine praise by Park! I also think his description of the painting is interesting so I include it here.

From Lawrence Park:

Doctor William Smith 1727-1803

William Smith was born near Aberdeen, Scotland, and graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 1747. He came to America in 1751 as a tutor in the family of Governor Martin on Long Island. In 1753 he was invited to take charge of the newly founded College and Academy of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He first went to England to take clerical orders and after his return was inducted into the office of provost, May, 1754. In 1758 he married Rebecca Moore (1733-1784), daughter of William Moore of Moore Hall, Chester County, Pennsylvania. He revisited England in 1759 and returned the same year vested with the degree of D.D. from the universities of Oxford and Aberdeen and Trinity College, Dublin. The extraordinary activity of Doctor Smith made the college a prominent institution in all the colonies. He was a most active worker in the church and in the field of science, literature and education, taking also part in the discussion of political and social questions. In 1779 he moved to Chestertown, Maryland, became rector of a parish, and in 1782 aided in founding Washington College there, of which he was chosen president. When the charter of the College of Philadelphia (made void in 1779) was restored in 1789 and during the succeeding two years, Dr. Smith was its provost.
Philadelphia, 1800. Canvas 37 x 60 inches. This is one of the finest portraits of men Stuart painted in this country. It is a large half-length, nearly twice as wide as it is high. Dr. William Smith is shown seated in a high-backed arm-chair, turned half-way to the left, with his eyes directed to the spectator. His gray hair is thin on top of his head and rather long and wavy over his ears and in back. He wears the gown of a doctor of divinity of Oxford: black, with scarlet hood and a sheer white cambric bib. His left hand rests on the arm of the chair, while his right, which holds a quill pen, rests on some sheets of paper that are lying on the large mahogany writing desk in front of him. There are also four leather-bound books, an inkwell and another quill pen. At the extreme left of the desk stands a theodolite. (This, evidently, in commemoration of Dr. Smith’s association with David Rittenhouse in the memorable observation of the transit of Venus, on June 3, 1769, at Norristown, Pennsylvania.) In the background is a large reddish-brown curtain, looped up in the left half of the picture and giving a glimpse of a most charmingly painted landscape in silvery tones, a scene at the Falls of Schuylkill, where Dr. Smith had a house. Seeing this, writes Charles Henry Hart in the Century Magazine of October, 1908, “we cannot but regret that Stuart did not sometimes turn from his portrait work to the free delineation of open-air nature, and leave us American landscapes full of atmosphere and feeling that we see he knew how to do so well, and in which he would have been no mean rival to his famous English compeers, Wilson and Gainsborough.”

Dr. William Smith by Gilbert Stuart Philadelphia,1800


Mrs. Samuel Blodget (daughter of Dr. Smith)
Philadelphia c.1798 by Gilbert Stuart
collection Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Praise from a Philadelphian! (& sources for research) & ...I am registering Samuel Meeker with the Smithsonian!

Samuel Meeker, the portrait, was most likely not discovered by Lawrence Park when he was assembling the works of Stuart, as the portrait was taken before his time to California by my late ancestors (the marriage of Carrie Martin of Rahway NJ to Lewis Cory of Fresno, Ca, see provenance). Somehow it seems Samuel belongs in Philadelphia, but, here in California he is, and here he will stay! At least I am bringing his story to light, he would be proud and happy about that! My ancestors who brought him here would be happy with my research, for they thought he was “Major Samuel Meeker” painted by Peale. To have the accurate story is a worthy aim is it not? I have been doing these postings for two years now, with various input from different people. But this particular letter sent to me by email just a few days ago...I appreciate so much! A real Philadelphian, praising my work! Thank you.

And today was special. I am sending in the forms on this portrait to the Smithsonian so that they may register Meeker in their INVENTORY OF AMERICAN PAINTINGS.
The letter now follows:


Are you the author of the blog -- I sure hope so. It's a fabulous and an amazing narrative of Philadelphia history!
I applaud your discipline and focus and strategy for exploring your family's heritage.
Who am I? I am a Philadelphian and am well-connected with many cultural heritage organizations and research centers. Indeed, I am forwarding your blog link to them, and encourage you to connect with them as well, as they have the resources and original documentation to serve your endeavor.
Many of these organizations are quickly digitizing their collections, so it might be easier to do more on-line research oforiginal material.
The next time you visit Philadelphia, try to visit these places. They are most helpful and receptive to serious scholars. Many of these research centers are FREE. The Historical Society of PA is the only one, I believe, that charges research fees. Best wishes for the New Year!

Anita Mc K.

1) John Van Horn, Director, The Library Company
2) Stephen Girard/Girard College and Estate
No doubt your ancestor had many interactions with Girard. Girard College has all of Stephen Girard's records (all of them -- in the thousands) on microfilm at Founders Hall at the College, including correspondence, diaries, bank statements, business records, etc
See "museum collections" and "archival collections" at this link below:
3) The McNeil Center at University of PA might connect you with academic scholars who have information about your ancestors.
4) Independence Seaport Museum "archives and library"
5) Philadelphia Athenaeum. This museum may have information about your ancestor's homes in Philadelphia. BTW its current exhibit "William Birch: Picturing The American Scene" runs through Jan 11, 2011.
6) The Philadelphia Historic Commission may have materials and photos of the Meeker home in today's Fairmount Park.
7) For historic photos check:
The Philadelphia Free Library Photo collection ... some of the oldest photos of Phila landmarks, homes, businesses, that your ancestor would have known. Thousands of photographs of Philadelphia dating from the late 1800s onwards from the city archives and the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.

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