Wednesday, December 4, 2013

An excellent portrait which the bird(s) had no proper regard for... Was Gilbert Stuart the artist? and other questions.

Marsha wrote me:
I got your information off the internet and I am hoping that you may be able to help me.  My family has a portrait that was painted long ago of a family member.  This painting was supposedly done by Gilbert Stuart (according to family documentation).  It is in need of restoration (original frame also) but we were wondering what we need to do to get it authenticated and repaired.  The damage is bird poo from a bird that got into the storage area.  The frame has been previously repaired but needs to be again.  I believe the family member was a Hamilton or a Stuart (no relation to Gilbert).  I do not have the documentation with me--my mother has it with her in Texas.  But if you can help I am sure I can obtain the information.  Thank you for trying!

Dear Marsha, first of all I extend my sympathy for the unfortunate damage caused by the birdie that the portrait has sustained! On the serious side, the portrait is truly excellent, by a very talented portrait artist. The artist aimed for a genuine likeness it seems, which was always a primary goal of Stuart's work.  There was never any embellishment to a woman's face, even if elderly.  Obviously to determine whether a work is by Stuart, the first step is to offer whatever documentation you have; what is the woman's name? Her birth and death date? In this way the Lawrence Park Volumes could be checked, to see if she or any other relatives are listed there.  Do you have a provenance (history of the ownership)?
Amusingly, the spots of birdie poo almost look like the flourishes of brilliant whites Stuart often used, for example to highlight the lace of a neck-cloth or of a woman's ribbon (see previous post.)  The frame indicates wealth. However although I think the portrait is excellent, I do not think it was by Gilbert Stuart. The accents are not right, the clothing looks to me to be from a slightly later time period, the style of painting does not conform to GS.  Now one thing I did with my GS portrait was take it to the de Young museum in San Francisco, where a couple of conservationists took some precious time out to not only admire 'the handsome guy' but also to subject it to ultraviolet light (taking an Impressionist painting off the easel).  This is a free service, at least by this museum, for people like you who think that they may have a valuable piece.  Such a service in fact is important, because there are SURELY significant pieces out there, and the owners may not know it.  Call your local museum and ask if they are interested in looking at your portrait and tell them what you know about it.
So see if you can find out from your mother what the woman's name is, and I will check the Park volumes and other sources to see if her family name pops up.  When you talk to (or email) the individuals at the museum, they can advise you as to restoration. And to all of my readers, please check the portraits in your attic to make sure they are protected from the critters!

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