Sunday, October 16, 2011


John Adams by Gilbert Stuart 1824 at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

This later portrait of our second President of the United States John Adams (1735-1826) is known to have been painted by Stuart sometime in 1824, as his son wrote that the painting was completed during Adam’s ninetieth year. It is generally acknowledged to be fine depiction by the portrait artist despite Stuart's advancing age. Barratt/Miles write: “Since he first painted Adams in 1800, Stuart’s brushwork had softened, becoming less precise, and showing signs of a tremulous hand.” p 322 (see book info in permanent area on right) "Completion of the portrait apparently took a full year." p 322

Also according to Barratt/Miles taken from the diary of Son J.Q Adams: John Quincy Adams “called...upon Stewart the Painter, and engaged him to go out to Quincy, and there paint a Portrait of my father—More than twenty years have passed since he painted the former portrait, and time has wrought so much of change on his countenance that I wish to possess a likeness of him as he now is. Stewart started some objections, of trivial difficulties—The want of an Easel, of a room properly adapted to the light; but finally promised that he would go, and take with him his best brush...”

In the last post (scroll down), two portraits are shown, attributed to Gilbert Stuart. Stuart was so willing, and capapble, to paint an aged sea captain and his wife in steady, plentiful detail, yet had ‘trivial objections’ to painting the second president of the United States at this point in time? I think it can be easily speculated that the pair of Schermerhorn portraits are wrongly attributed to the great master. {Which would explain the low starting bid.} Did the sellers/buyers consult any experts about the attribution?

A Fighter for Our Liberty

“It was in the courtrooms of Massachusetts and on the printed page, principally in the newspapers of Boston, that Adams had distinguished himself. Years of riding the court circuit and his brilliance before the bar had brought him wide recognition and respect. And of greater consequence in recent years had been his spirited determination and eloquence in the cause of American rights and liberties.” John Adams” by David McCullough, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2001

Monday, October 10, 2011

they seem authentic...Mr and Mrs Schermerhorn, for a (very) reasonable price!

Mr. and Mrs. Schermerhorn attributed to Gilbert Stuart c. 1825

Cowan's October 8 Fall Fine and Decorative Art Auction (Cincinnati) offered two Stuart portraits, Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Schermerhorn. Now how is this..the estimate was only $1,000 - $2,000 and starting bid for $500.!
The Price Realized: $10,575.00. (Something is odd about the pricing here, Chinese artifacts are definitely the hot items in the auction circuit!)

The description was given:
Attributed to Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755-1828), ca 1825, includes two unsigned portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Schermerhorn, both housed in decorative gilt and gesso frame; 32.5 x 25.5 in.

A New York sea captain, Mr. Schermerhorn became a successful merchant in the newly independent United States. Born in 1756 in the colonies, he died in 1826, shortly after this portrait was probably painted. Cornelius is shown in a three-quarter pose, seated in a mahogany Grecian chair against a swag of red drapery with blue gray sky in the background. The companion portrait of Mrs. Schermerhorn depicts her seated in a heavier gilt Grecian chair with red upholstery.

There was no other information offered on the portraits. If the portraits were done in 1825, then Mr. Schermerhorn would be 70 years old. Neither he nor his wife look to be much past 60, I am sceptical of the date given to the portraits (c. 1825). The pair are not in the Lawrence Park volumes, nor in (George) Mason. Gilbert Stuart, if in fact he completed these portraits in 1825, passed away 3 years later (1828)--and he certainly spent much time on some of the accents in these portraits, such as the shawl with the rose border. Unusual, since Gibby did not like to focus on much of anything except for the face. The hands are very well done as well. hmmmm.

I did some sleuthing on Mr. Schermerhorn and found this (courtesy Schermerhorn Genealogy and Family Chronicles):

Cornelius I. Schermerhorn lived at Schodack Landing, N. Y. He was a merchant and large land and vessel owner, several of his vessels being engaged in trade with the East Indies. In 1793 he was a Lieutenant in his father's regiment. In 1798 he was Captain of Light Infantry in Brig. Gen. Henry K. Van Rensselaer's Rensselaer Co. Brigade. 1798-1800 he was Adjutant in Col. Nicholas Staat's Rensselaer Co. Regiment. March 30, 1803, he was commissioned as Major and on March 12, 1810, as Lieutenant Colonel, and April 3, 1812, as Colonel of the 43rd Regiment, 8th Brigade, Third Division of the New York Militia under command of Brigadier-General Jacob A. Fort and Major General Henry Livingston. Colonel Schermerhorn served on the frontier with his regiment during the war of 1812.
Cornelius I. Schermerhorn held the office of assessor in Schodack in 1795, and from 1800 to 1809 was supervisor of the village. In 1808, 1809, 1810, 1811 and 1818 he was a member of the New York State Assembly, and during that service he way prominently identified with the plans for the inauguration of the Erie Canal.

A characterization from the pen of a grandson, reads as follows:
"My grandfather, Col. Cornelius I. Schermerhorn lived in the house which still stands (1905) a little north of the village of Schodack Landing and quite near the bank of the river. It is said that this house was built about 1760 with bricks brought from Holland. It is an excellent type of the better class of houses of the Dutch settlers. My grandfather in many respects resembled his father, though less domineering in character. He was silent and reserved and like his father a leader among the men with whom he was associated. Through his business ability he added materially to the property left him by his father, and at the time of his death in 1828, he owned nearly all the farms in the vicinity of the village. He had in addition large vessel interests, part of which was engaged in trade with China and the East.
His wife Elizabeth Monden, was an exceedingly bright, vivacious woman, with a highly developed religious nature. She was a descendent of Heer Johannes La Montagne, vice-director of the West Indies Co., at Fort Orange, Albany, from 1659 to 1664. The family was of Huguenot origin, emigrating from Holland about the middle of the 17th century. The name became changed to Monden, Monton, Munden."

With regard to authenticity Cowan's Auctions provides these words: Cowan's Auctions makes limited warranty concerning the authenticity of any lot for a period of 21 days following the sale. If a buyer is not satisfied that the item purchased is genuine, they may, at their expense, obtain the opinion of two mutually agreed upon recognized experts in the field of the disputed item. If these experts determine the item is not genuine, the buyer's sole remedy under the auctioneer's warranty shall be the rescission of the sale and refund of the original price paid for the item.

Also: Cowan's Auctions, Inc. assumes no responsibility for correct descriptions or defects in any lot, and makes no warranty in connection therewith.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

WHODUNNIT was it a Stuart? (Continued...) What the experts say.

It is well-known that Stuart did not sign his paintings, he felt that a portrait of his WAS the signature! I received a mail, from someone who wanted to know if I thought that the portrait of his ancestor, David Bradlee, was a Stuart. Substantial similarities, but ...

I wrote “Hi Ted, Thanks for sending me your note! My inclination is to say that it is not a Stuart.... [click for post>Determining a genuine Gilbert Stuart portrait is not always easy!] I then suggested he send the image to the three reigning experts. One is Dr. Ellen G. Miles, Curator Emerita, Department of Painting and Sculpture, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The others are Carrie Barratt Associate Director for Collections and Administration at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Dorinda Evans, author of a bio on Stuart. The process is fascinating, I think.

Ted wrote Ellen Miles:
I think I may have a Gilbert Stuart portrait of one of my ancestors. I have attached a photo. David W. Bradlee, Boston, 1765-1833. He was in the shipping business. The letter that he holds reads, “Painted at the Columbian Museum Boston”. It is not signed. David’s father, David, participated in the Boston Tea Party. How can I authenticate the portrait? Ted W

I have forwarded your inquiry to a couple of people who may have the answer; it’s definitely not by Stuart, in terms of technique and coloring. The inscription suggests it is either by Ethan Allen Greenwood, or by Edward Savage (it looks more like a Greenwood to me). You may hear directly from someone other than me! Ellen M.

Hi Ellen, Thank you for taking the time to look at the portrait. I really appreciate your input.

No problem. It’s nice to see a painting with an inscription that helps identify it! Plus, you know who the sitter is, which is very helpful! Let me know if you don’t hear anything within a week or two, okay? Thanks!

Does the inscription help since you know that Greenwood and Savage painted at the Columbian Museum in Boston?

About Savage and Greenwood, and the museum, I may have jumped too quickly! The portrait may not date from a date that is late enough for this to help with an attribution. On the museum itself, you can consult the Wikipedia entry on the Columbian Museum, which includes the following:“Daniel Bowen (ca. 1760–1856) established the Columbian Museum in Boston in 1795. Located "at the head of the mall" near the Boston Common, the museum's collection included items from Edward Savage's "New York Museum."…”..after 1807, Bowen suffered financial ruin, and withdrew from museum operations. William M. S. Doyle assumed directorship thenceforth, until 1825, when Ethan Allen Greenwood acquired the collections for his newly established New England Museum.”
Doyle was also a portrait painter.
Let’s wait to see what others say! Thanks. Ellen G. Miles (Dr.)

Carrie Barratt answered:
Dear Mr. Wight,
With apologies for the delay, I regret that I find no record in my books or files of a Stuart portrait of David W. Bradlee. The picture looks post-Stuart to me, perhaps by James Frothingham or another younger Boston artist who painted in his style. You could contact the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which has many Boston portraits by Stuart to make a comparison. Sorry not to be of more assistance.
Carrie Rebora Barratt

from Dorinda, the most pragmatic and terse of the three (in my opinion):
Thanks for the images. Unfortunately, this is not by Gilbert Stuart. It looks as though it might have been over-cleaned on the face (down to the grayish ground) and then re-painted. I can't immediately identify this hand, but, from the costume, it was painted in the early 1790s. If you can be sure the inscription is original (clean cracks, or look at it under ultraviolet light in a darkened room for repaint in the last century), perhaps you could find out more about the museum. Good luck. Dorinda Evans

Ted wrote me after all these responses:
I am mad at my ancestor for being cheap and not getting Gilbert Stuart to do his portrait...especially when his first cousins had Stuart do theirs!
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