Monday, June 29, 2015

Did Gilbert Stuart paint the pastel of George Washington? & ATTENTION an upcoming GS exhibition!

A reader wrote me:
Beth I saw your 2011 posting regarding a possible G. Stuart and wanted to run my story by you.
We have had a pastel portrait of GW in our family for unknown generations. It is relatively rudimentary compared with Gilbert Stuarts works, has an odd nose, and, again, is in pastel.  It is unsigned, but has in block lettering "G C Stuart" and "1795" in the bottom corner as well as "George Washington" and "1795" to the right of the bust.  Some other, less defined writing and another 1795 is below on the right.
It is definitely old by the look of the canvas, and my mother has by marriage connections to John Janney.  She has authenticated Washington and Lee items in her estate.
That said, but I question if it is a G C Stuart as it is pastel, has G C Stuart on it, and shows a much younger GW than appeared in contemporary portraits of him around 1796.
Would like your thoughts, and have attached a photo.
Steve Be**si
What did I write back, yes or no?  and why?
Dear Steve,
Thankyou for your note! Again I would like to remind my readers, and you, that I am not an expert, meaning I am not a titled art historian.  For genuine authentication one should consult well-known experts in the field! That being said, let me give you my opinion on your very nice pastel. As you describe it yourself, the pastel is relatively "rudimentary".  It is "not signed" which is typical of Stuart's works, he said once that his signature was the entirety of the painting itself--He would never have placed his name in block letters on any of his works.
It is important to note that our master either did not finish a painting, or the portraits were finished masterpieces.  I have not heard or seen of any work that was not a masterpiece and an outstanding likeness of the sitter...even some of his unfinished paintings have the glimmers of his mastery.  Commonly he did not finish a painting if something the sitter did or said was irritating, or there was disagreement on the price, or the female was too accurately depicted (displeasing the female sitter who wanted and expected to see something beautiful.)
The Stuart portraits are so accurate that they almost look like a photograph--so any work that hints at only 2 dimensions, is not likely to be a Stuart.  Your pastel of GW is rather inaccurate; when considering the nose as you mentioned, the lips/mouth...GS definitely had a consistent way of drawing GW's mouth, which emphasized the protrusion of his lips due to his false teeth.  Comparing this to GS's GW portraits, one could not easily tell they are of the same person.
Your pastel MAY be from the correct time period, it is hard for me to say.  Frame experts can look at the frame, other experts can tell the approx age of the paint and canvas, etc.  It looks to be in the style of GS, so it could have originated in that period.
But I can say with certitude, that this work would not have been done by our master.  it is still lovely and it is always an honor to have an image of Washington, no matter whether it is a Gilbert Stuart or not!


Gilbert Stuart: From Boston to Brunswick
July 9, 2015 - January 3, 2016
Markell Gallery

This exhibition brings together a selection of oil paintings by Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828) from the Museum’s collection, including his famous portraits of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The preeminent portraitist of the early republic, Stuart created fashionable likenesses of the period’s most important political, military, and social figures. Each of works included in the exhibition was completed after Stuart’s move to Boston in 1805. Collectively, they provide insight into the artist’s relationship with other artists and collectors in the region, including members of the Bowdoin family.

My last word on this post, ALEXANDER HAMILTON, treasury secretary under Pres. George Washington, SHOULD NOT BE taken off the $10.00 bill.  Gimme a break. That is an outrage, and a lowering the bar of the education in this nation.  Everyone should know of, and about, Alexander Hamilton.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

My aunt, a Stanford University Campus 'queen', and direct descendant of Samuel Meeker's twin Phoebe Meeker

REMINDER--Samuel gifted his expensive/exquisite/illustrious Stuart portrait to his twin sister, all logical deductions point to the portrait being given to Phoebe on their 40ieth birthday.  It would have been the occasion for a ball given at their country estate, Fountain Green (click on link) on the Schuylkill river.  This would certainly not have been an ordinary birthday party! If these two could have looked down into the crystal ball and seen the future, they'd be proud.

My aunt Edelen (and my mom) are direct descendants of Phoebe Meeker 

Phoebe Meeker (1763-?) m. Job Brookfield
Mary Brookfield (1804- after 1856) m. John Ludlum Martin
Thomas Mulford Martin (1831-1917) m. Mary Ayers
Carrie Ayers Martin (1862-1937) m. Lewis Lincoln Cory (portrait brought to Ca) (click on link for a photograph of Carrie to view similarities to Samuel Meeker portrait)
Benjamin Hyde Cory (1896-1983) m. Susan Leavitt (my grandparents Susie and Pops) (click on link for a photograph of Ben to view similarities to Samuel Meeker portrait)
 Ben and Susie had two daughters

Edelen and Carolyn Cory (click on link for a photograph of mom) 
(My aunt and mom both graduated from Stanford University; 
currently Edelen lives in Menlo Park Ca and my mom in Santa Cruz Ca)

Lovely Edelen was voted campus queen at Stanford University in 1951. This photograph took up a full page in the yearbook, the "Stanford Quad 1951"
The icon to the left became politically incorrect.  How I remember it though!
Was she signing out for a date?
Happy moms day to Edelen and my mom Carolyn!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Ruggles Whiting...did he sit for Stuart? Yes or no? and lovely Lydia Smith....

A reader wrote me: Beth, I am in the process of becoming more familiar with Gilbert Stuart and have very much enjoyed your blog. It occurs to me that you may find the attached photo of interest and I would appreciate any thoughts that you might care to offer.  The portrait is not signed, but was displayed at the MFA in Boston many years ago (1917 to be precise) as the work of Stuart.  It was at the time in the possession of the subject's great granddaughter who, in all likelihood, bequeathed it to the Dover Historical Society which has owned it for many years (I'm presently pulling together the provenance and will know the story of the acquisition in due course.)  The subject is Ruggles Whiting, a Boston merchant born in Dover, MA in 1779 and died in Boston or Dover 1827.  

My thanks in advance for your thoughts and my apologies for the rather poor quality of my photo.
Elisha L. President Dover Historical society

I looked at this oil that Elisha sent me.  Having tried to photograph my own Stuart numerous times, I sympathized with the glare in the lower right corner, throwing some of the light from the flash into the photograph.  Did I mind?............!!

****& my response below****

Dear Elisha,
Ruggles is not in the Lawrence Park volumes, which is not particularly significant as my Meeker was not either.

It is a beautiful portrait, and has all the particular and  stunning Stuart features characteristic of a Stuart he used to say.... his portraits did not need his signature because the entire portrait itself would be the signature!  My Samuel Meeker was born in 1763, which made him about 40 when he was painted.  Ruggles looks to me to be in his early 30ies--which means possibly Stuart did his portrait somewhere around 1809 (say Ruggles is at age 30)--well within the years that Stuart was painting well (see portrait of Lydia Smith done in 1808-10) .
Ruggles has a receding hairline, but no grey whatsoever, does not have the darker bags under the eyes that my Meeker has...which makes me think he is around 30 or so.  The  translucent skin tones are pure Stuart, and the paler forehead was a common feature, since the men were often outdoors on horseback wearing a hat (the cheeks in contrast receiving lots of sun).  The sitter chose a less expensive portrait, which did not include a background, or hand or any kind of prop.  Stuart would have surely tried to persuade Mr. Whiting to choose a background that he often used for merchants (like Meeker) which would have him holding a paper, indicating a ledger of some sort, and the chair with sky/drapery in the background.  (Samuel Meeker's cousin William Meeker was a business partner of Samuel but also chose the less expensive format for his portrait, which makes me think that Samuel was the "CEO".)  Stuart was in Boston from 1805 to 1828.
This portrait looks to me to be a genuine Stuart.  Thanks so much for sending the photo of your portrait!  It is worthy of a great display location, along with the story of the sitter.  I have found that a Stuart portrait by itself, without the story of the sitter, deprives the viewer of the full scope of Stuart's magnificent talent, as well as a small dose of our history.  The provenance also lends interest to a Stuart painting. Can I post Mr Ruggles Whiting on my blog?
Thanks again,


Now for the portrait of lovely Lydia, who sat for our master approx in the same time frame, in Boston. (This lovely portrait I mention in the response above). She would have been only 7 years younger than dear Ruggles.  Most likely the Whitings knew the Smiths. Stay in tune for more information on Ruggles, and the Smith family.

Lydia Smith

Daughter of Barney Smith, educated in the female arts in France, the portrait shows her skill in artful clothing (simple white muslin gown with empire waist, the daring fashion set by the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon), indulging in the proper pastime for young ladies of wealth and culture, drawing and music (see piano in left corner.)  Her jewels also portray elegant simplicity, a string of choker length pearls with a hanging gold pendant.  Lydia studied at the school for young ladies established by famed Mme Campan (who learned the arts at the court of Versailles), where she studied French, music, and art; at one point two of Napoleon’s sisters attended the famous school. This would have been a most prestigious, and of course the best preparatory education for any young girl whose principle aim was to attract a worthy suitor.
Lydia found her future husband in London in 1811, widower Jonathan Russell who became the US minister to Sweden. Perhaps her strong determination to excel became more of an end in itself, as she was aged 31 by the time of the marriage.  Russell was a widower, with four children.

Miss Lydia Smith 
{from the Lawrence Park Volumes}

A daughter of Barney and Ann (Otis) Smith of Boston.  Her parents, her brother, Henry Barney Smith, her sister, Mrs. George Alexander Otis, and her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Abiel Smith, were all painted by Stuart.  She and her brother passed their early life in France and England, and she attended in Paris the school of Madame Campan.  Later she studied art in England under the instruction of Benjamin West, who gave her his palette, which is still preserved in the family.  She became, in 1817 in Boston, the second wife of Honorable Jonathan Russell (1771-1832) of Boston, who had a distinguished diplomatic career as charge d'affairs at Paris and London, and as one of the commissioners in 1814 to negotiate and conclude the Treaty of Peace with Great Britain at Ghent.  From 1814 to 1818 he represented the United States as minister plenipotentiary to Sweden, and the first year of Mrs. Russell’s married life was probably passed in Sweden.  In 1818 they returned permanently to America and settled in Mendon, Massachusetts, where he represented that district in Congress from 1821 to 1825.  Soon after he removed to Milton, Massachusetts, where he died, and where his widow survived him for nearly thirty years.

Boston, c 1807 (the date has been determined to be two to three years later). Panel, 32 1/8 x 28 ¾. Life-size, half-length, seated in a gilt Empire armchair, with her body in profile, her head three-quarters left, and brown eyes to spectator.  Her coloring is brilliant, her dark brown hair is parted and brushed smooth with the exception of a long ringlet in front of her ear.  Before her is a desk which supports the top of a portfolio resting on her lap.  On the cover of the portfolio is a sheet of paper upon which Miss Smith is drawing, and in her right hand she holds a porte crayon, while with her left she steadies the portfolio. She wears a very simple and attractive white muslin dress, low-necked and short-sleeved, and over her right shoulder is thrown a pale mauve scarf with gold threads.  About her neck is a necklace of small pearls. In the pearly-toned background appears the wall of a room on which, at the left side of the picture, are two pilasters. 


Thursday, January 29, 2015

many pardons for neglecting my most favorite portrait master of all time...

Writing the history of other past ancestors has taken up much of my time, (with more to come).  You can find my book (with two other authors) on Amazon. Yet rest assured that my love of GS and his sitters, remains unabated.  Look for more posts in the year ahead!

From Medicine Man to Medical Doctor
The Medical History of Early Santa Clara Valley

Elizabeth Ahrens-Kley
Gerald Trobough
Michael Shea
Santa Clara County of course is home of the famed Silicon Valley here in California.
You can find more information on my gt gt grandfather Benjamin Cory MD in this blog, and in my essay online which won first place in the essay contest sponsored by the "California Pioneers of Santa Clara County" 
June 2011

Just a reminder, it was the Doctor's son, my gt grandfather Lewis Lincoln Cory born in San Jose California 1861, who married a girl from Rahway NJ.  Carrie [Marin] Cory, {click on link to the left to see the image of my gt grandmother Carrie, gt grandaughter of Phoebe Meeeker who received the GS portrait from her twin brother Samuel; the genetics in the facial similarity between Carrie and the portrait are amazing; a demonstration of the skill of GS} brought the GS portrait of Samuel Meeker to California from NJ due to this marriage and the fact that she had two sons and 3 daughters and her two Martin sisters had no children.  Due to this unusual "travelling" from the east to west coast, the portrait was lost to those who were attempting to locate and document all GS portraits.
What a twist of fate, that Samuel Meeker is now with me, his fine and fascinating history fully explored.

To see Carrie Cory's position in the line of provenance, click here.

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