Tuesday, February 5, 2013

To check for authenticity of a Stuart? Similarity! Samuel Gatliff, the rise and fall of a Philadelphia merchant

Not as much is known about Samuel Gatliff (1773/74-1806) as is known about his pretty wife Elizabeth (painted by Stuart)~ her father represented Virginia in Congress (also painted by Stuart). Her grandfather C. Braxton was a prominent Virginia planter, politician, and signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Gatliff was a partner in a wool manufacturing firm in England before making his way to Philadelphia and marrying Elizabeth there.  Clearly he offered good prospects since he was able to marry a woman from the social elite of the city.  The couple had 4 children, and were able to live not far from Samuel Meeker on the banks of the Schuylkill which indicates wealth (or at least the show of it~I have not figured out where exactly but it seems to have been on the east bank) He is listed as a merchant at 124 Spruce St. in Philadelphia city directories 1798-1803, advertising “thirty bales of stuffs” for sale in 1803 in the Gazette of the United States...Elizabeth’s circle of friends included Eleanor Parke Custis (G. Washington’s grand-daughter).

A problem in determining the authenticity of a Stuart is that he did not sign his portraits.  When asking oneself, is this portrait by Stuart?  Check first of all for...SIMILARITY.
I have picked the image of Gatliff to show the remarkable similarities between this portrait and Meeker's.  Stuart seemed to like to have his 'merchants' hold papers which most likely indicate bills of lading or some kind of trade correspondence.  They are dressed very similarly in a fashionable way, similar pose (seated at a table covered with a red cloth) turned slightly to the right with face looking at the viewer, similar size (3/4 length), similar accents (red velvet chair.) Perhaps Meeker paid a bit more for the curtain/sky background, also a sitter could probably choose to pay a bit more for the papers. The perfect men of commerce.  Merchant Gatliff has rather pointy and pale features, perhaps even by this time his health was suffering (note the difference in posture between Gatliff and Meeker)... 

c. 1798 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

Yet as prominently as Gatliff displayed his "success" (living in a villa on the Schuylkill, Stuart portrait with more expensive add-ons) which was also important to inspire trust, this also shows that he seems to have extended his credit too widely. His trading practice began to wobble.  The business partner of Gatliff's, still in Yorkshire England, was obliged to leave England and travel to Philadelphia in the effort to right the problems now apparently causing substantial financial distress (from this partner we know that the Gatliffs lived on the Schuylkill river bank) but this friend was unable to help, accused Gatliff of financial misconduct, and the business partners dissolved the friendship and business ties were cut.  Gatliff did not have time to prove that he had any talent or the ability to shed debt, he died 3 years later at the young age of 32 (consumption?), and Elizabeth went with her four girls to live with her father in Va.

When determining the authenticity of a Stuart, besides checking Stuart's style and similarities to your portrait, check whether other relatives were done by Stuart; he often painted an extended circle of relatives.  (Meeker's first cousin William P Meeker was painted by GS. He had neither papers, nor sky, nor chair.)

Next: the portrait of Elizabeth Gatliff and child.

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