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. 

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