Monday, March 7, 2016

Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis (nee Sally Foster) & ....Jeanne's fascinating project, to paint the gt grandaughter of Phoebe Meeker in the style of Gilbert Stuart

Carrie [b. Martin] Cory was born in 1862 in New Jersey.  Her father was Thomas Mulford Martin, grandfather was John Ludlum Martin and grandmother Mary [Brookfield] Martin; the mother of Mary Brookfield was Phoebe Meeker, twin sister of my Samuel Meeker.  Thus Phoebe Meeker was the great grandmother of Carrie.  Carrie is MY gt grandmother. {Thereby is the Provenance of the Samuel Meeker painting.}
Carrie moved to Fresno Ca after she married Lewis Cory who was born in San Jose Ca in 1861. The two were formally married in New York City in Oct of 1882.  The Cory family was established in New Jersey before later descendents (Dr. Ben Cory) took the trek across the plains and established his practice in the Pueblo of San Jose in late 1847 (just before gold was discovered).
Now one of my readers has begun an exciting project, after seeing photos of my gt grandmother (scroll down to see the photos, and click here for more on Carrie.)  She is attempting to paint this descendant of the Meeker twins in the style of Gilbert Stuart.  What a fascinating idea, and this piece of artwork will be posted when it is finished!  Just below is the latest email from Jeanne, who provides technical details about the work in progress.  For those of you who love GS, or who love portrait painting for that matter, read on!
At the end of this post, you can view the GS portrait of Sally [Foster] Otis that Jeanne references.  It is truely the work of a master. Stuart painted other Otis family members so I will post more information and other portraits of her family in the near future.
For me, this project is a special one; and I can only point to my Gilbert Stuart blog, for having a reader bless my ancestor with a portrait.  I'm sure that Carrie would be highly pleased.  Her life as a housewife [albeit wealthy housewife] in Fresno Ca was probably not as exciting as the life of the Meeker twins in early Philadelphia at the turn of the century.  Although Fresno at the time was supposed to be the next San Francisco.... 

Just thought I'd send an update on the progress with Carrie's portrait. I think you may be surprised, as I am, at how her appearance is developing. The face is well along, although not glazed yet, and she looks somewhat different than I had expected. I wanted to explain a bit about why that is the case.

Although Stuart would have used the "sight-size" method of developing his likenesses, we don't have the luxury of Carrie sitting in person. What we have is two somewhat blurry photos (they are still a whole lot better than similar photos from my own family). In a case like this, the way I get a likeness is to enlarge the photo(s) to full size and make a careful tracing on clear acetate. I transfer the outline to the painting surface, which in this case is a gessoed panel. I keep the acetate tracing taped to the side of the panel during painting so I can periodically flip it over the painting to check for accuracy. So I know that Carrie's image is a true one.

The photo I traced was the hatless one, because it shows her forehead and hair. When that photo was enlarged, it was just barely possible to locate and draw the correct contours of her eyes, especially the lower lids. What initially appeared to be outer edges of her lower eyelids in the photo are actually their shadows. The eyelids themselves are shaped as you would expect from their appearance in the other photo. In addition, she had very excellent bone structure with a strong brow ridge. My older daughter has the same feature, and when she is photographed outside in bright sunlight, her eyebrows disappear. That is what happened to the outer portions of Carrie's brows in the first photo, so I did have to shape them as they appear in the second photo. Between those two refinements to the photo, her appearance is somewhat different than you will have expected. I think she looks quite pretty.

As I had mentioned in earlier email, the light source in the photo was not as perfect as I had originally thought. Looking through Stuart's work (and that of other artists too, like Reynolds for example), I have discovered that nearly all of them have the light source on the "near" side of the subject's face, illuminating the shape of the nose so that the shadow of the nose is on the "far" side of the face. Among the few exceptions to this in Stuart;s work are his Jefferson portraits. So I had to find a Stuart painting with a female sitter to use as a model for the shading on Carrie's face. There are not many good closeup photos of Stuart's portraits, which is sort of odd I think. But I did find the portrait of Sally Otis at the Reynolda House website, and I am using that as a guide for shading and color. 

As you can guess, I am having a lot of fun with it all, and learning a few tricks as well. Today, I'm going to start on the lace blouse, which will probably bring its own challenges.


Jeanne mentions the Stuart portrait of Sally Otis, so I thought it would be interesting to include her portrait in this post.  The portrait descended through family members, and was acquired by the Reynolda House from Vose Galleries in Boston in 1967.

courtesy of Reynolda House 
Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis

Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis 1770-1836
She was Sally, daughter of William and Grace (Spear) Foster of Boston.  She married, in 1790, Harrison Gray Otis.

Boston c.1809. Panel, 32 x26 in.  Half-length, life-size, seated in an Empire armchair, upholstered in blue damask, upholstered in blue damask, her body turned three-quarters left, her head nearly three-quarters, and her brown eyes directed to the spectator.  Her brown hair is parted with small curls on the forehead and in front of the ears and done high on her head, with a small jeweled pin showing.  She wears a simple white muslin dress, low-necked, high-waisted, and with very short, slightly puffed sleeves.  Her waist is confined by a narrow white girdle fastened in front with an oval gold pin.  Over her right shoulder is a light reddish-brown India shawl with embroidered design, which falls upon her lap, and surrounding her, appears behind her left arm and lies upon the chair arm.  About the upper left arm is a chased gold amulet.  She sits with her body slightly inclined forward, with her hands lying lightly clasped in her lap.  The backround is of dark tones of greenish-browns and grays.  A close inspection of the background shows indistinctly the head of a child which has been painted out.  In addition to this visible evidence, there is documentary evidence that when first painted Mrs. Otis was shown holding her son, Alleyne Otis (1807-1873), in her arms.  This evidence is given by a letter written to Mrs. Charles Davis of Boston to her mother, Mrs. Benjamin Bussey, under date of Oct. 13, 1809, referring to a visit which she had made a few days before to Stuart’s studio. “Mrs. Otis’s picture is as perfect as it can be.  She is taken with her younger son in her arms and a most beautiful one it is.  I asked Mr. Stuart how it was possible to get a correct likeness of children, who are always in motion.  ‘I shoot flying,’ was the answer.”  Of this picture Mr. Charles Henry Hart wrote: “Its dignified and graceful pose and its delicate and pure color make it one of the painter’s great achievements.”


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