Monday, November 25, 2013

Are these Gilbert Stuart portraits? & a comparison to Mrs. Yates

Pamela sent me an email with two images.
"See attached; I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. According to the family story passed down with the photos, the female portrait is of an American woman that was famous for being captured by the Indians. I think she either gave birth while in captivity, or shortly after she escaped.  My memory is not clear and I may do some family history research to see exactly who they are and how they relate. Let me know what you think."  Pamela

 Dear Pamela, it is my opinion that these two portraits are not done by the American master portrait painter Gilbert Stuart.  They do not seem to carry the hallmark excellence of a Stuart portrait; in addition to have no provenance history (history of ownership through the generations) or certain knowledge of who they are, is generally not a good basis to think that they are Stuarts!  Of course my family did not know that mine was a Stuart either, but it was known that the artist "was someone famous". And importantly, it is recorded that Stuart had painted another Meeker. Generally Stuart painted portraits of the rich and famous, mainly because they were the ones who could give him "bread", or in other words, pay good money for the portraits. What he charged at the time was what might be considered "extremely expensive"'--For example, collection of monies were taken up to commission Stuart portraits of George Washington.  He often knew the sitter, through elite social or family connections.  Always I tell my readers to keep in mind that portrait painting was very common as in this time period there was no other way to record a likeness.  Art, portrait painting, was taken up by one and all!    Here I have included the masterful portrait of Catherine Brass Yates by Stuart.

Compare the photographic quality and intensity, the naturalism of the Staurt portrait of this lady; she is about the same age as your portrait of the female.  The manipulation of the silver pigment, the different strategies for portraying the different materials! Husband Yates had an importing business, was a member of the New York State Chamber of Commerce.  He imported such things as flour sugar and rum--running a typical business triangle between NY, the West Indies and Britain. Catherine, daughter of a shoemaker, is dressed in precious fabrics, her sewing indicates that she was just as industrious as her husband.

So Pamela, write back when you have discovered more about the identity of the individuals in your portraits! I will do a follow-up story!

Catherine Brass Yates by Gilbert Start c.1793 National Gallery of Art

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