Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

“few people whose prospects of happiness exceed mine”

Eliza Southgate Bowne wrote to her mother on July 8, 1803, adding details to the account of her experiences in New York City she had described to her sister Octavia in the previous post.

Mv letter will be an old date before I finish it. You must have perceived, my dear mother, from my letters, that I am much pleased with New-York. I was never in a place that I should prefer as a situation for life, and nothing but the distance from my friends can render it other than delightful. We have thus far spent the summer delightfully; we have been (on) no very long journeys, but on a number of little excursions of twenty or forty miles to see whatever is pleasant in the neighborhood.
Mr. Bowne’ s friends, though all very plain, are very amiable and affectionate, and I receive every attention from them I wish. I have a great many people call on me, and shall have it in my power to select just such a circle of acquaintance as suits my taste: few people whose prospects of happiness exceed mine, which I often think of with grateful sensations. Mr. Bowne’s situation in life is equal to my most sanguine expectations, and it is a peculiar gratification to me to find him so much and so universally esteemed and respected. This would be ridiculous from me to any but my mother, but I know it must be pleasing to you to know that I realize all the happiness you can wish me. I have not a wish that is not gratified as soon as ’tis known. We intend going to Bethlehem, Philadelphia, and a watering-place, similar to the Springs [Saratoga], about thirty miles beyond Philadelphia: shall probably set out the latter part of this month. At present we have done nothing toward housekeeping, and Mr. Bowne won’t let me do the least thing toward it, lest I get my mind engaged, and not enjoy the pleasure of our journeys.
‘Tis very different here from most any place, for there is no article but you can find ready made to your taste, excepting table-linen, bedding, etc., etc. One poor bed-quilt is all I have toward housekeeping, and been married two months almost. I am sadly off, to be sure. We have not yet found a house that suits us. Mr. Bowne don’t like any of his own, and wishes to hire one for the present, until he can build, which he intends doing next season, which I am very glad of, as I never liked living in a hired house, and changing about so often. . . . I have been very busy with my mantua-maker, as I am having a dress made to wear to Mrs. [Rufus King] Delafield’s to dinner on Sunday. They have a most superb country-seat on Long Island, opposite Hell Gate. . . .
My picture is done, but I am disappointed in it. Malbone says he has not done me justice; so says Mr. Bowne; but I think, though the features are striking, he has not caught the expression, particularly of the eyes, which are excessively pensive. . . . The mouth laughs a little, and they all say is good,—all the lower part of the face,—but the eyes not the thing. He wants me to sit again; so does Mr. Bowne; Malbone thinks he could do much better in another position. I get so tired, I am quite reluctant about sitting again. However, I intend showing it to some of our friends before we determine. . . . Mr. Bowne and myself are talking of coming to see you next summer very seriously. How comes on the new house? We are to come as soon as ever that is finished. If you choose to send so far, I will purchase any kind of furniture you may wish, perhaps cheaper and better than you can get elsewhere. Adieu! Remember me to all the children. Dear little Mary! I can’t help crying sometimes, with all my pleasures and amusements: ’tis impossible to be at once reconciled to quitting all one’s friends. . . . Tell [father] I yesterday met a woman full broke out withe the small-pox. I was within a yard of her before I perceived it. The first sensation was terror, and I ran several paces before I recollected myself. As soon as I arrived in town. Dr. Moore examined my arm, inquired the particulars, and refused to inoculate me again; that he would venture to insure me from the small-pox; that he had inoculated hundreds, and never had one take the small-pox after the kine-pox. Adieu!
Your affectionate daughter,
ELIZA S. BOWNE.

Eliza and Walter Bowne would have two children. Eliza was not well after the second birth and she went, with her sister Octavia, to Charlestown, South Carolina, hoping to benefit from the milder climate. She died there in 1809. She was twenty-five years old. The last letter she wrote was to Caroline Bowne, her mother-in-law, on January 28. “I send by Capt. Crouch a little pair of shoes for Mary, a little cuckoo toy for Walter, and a tumbler of orange marmalade for Mother. . . . I can tell you nothing flattering of my health. I am very miserable at present; I have a kind of intermittent fever; this afternoon I shall take an emetic, and hope a good effect. How are my dear little ones? I hope not too troublesome. . . . Precious children!”
Walter Bowne went on to become the 59th mayor of New York City in 1829.

The first letter can be found HERE. The one from Charleston can be found HERE. The portrait miniature is by Edward Greene Malbone (1777–1807) and was taken from a POST of the New England Historical Society.

posted April 23rd, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art,Bowne, Eliza Southgate,Bowne, Walter,New York,Smallpox

Solving the Mystery of Prince

In a search for possible pastels by Prince (see previous post), we corresponded in 2008 with the Prints and Drawings Department of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston but came up empty-handed.

Author J.L. Bell, in a recent blog noted that two unsigned portraits by the enslaved artist had been discovered by Paula M. Bagger at the Hingham (Massachusetts) Historical Society and a signed portrait at an antiques show by Amelia Peck, curator of Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.* Moreover, they were able to fill in some of Prince’s biography. His full name was Prince Demah Barnes, and was in his twenties when he lived with Christian Barnes. From October 1770 to July 1771, Prince went to England with Henry Barnes, and received some instruction from a “Mr. Pine” (possibly Robert Edge Pine). When he returned, Prince apparently made “five pictures from life . . . three of them as good likenesses as ever Mr. Copling took”. [9 March 1772]. Is it possible that two of the five pictures were those of Christian and Henry Barnes? Was one of Elizabeth Smith, who had returned to Boston mid-1771 and had married Ralph Inman on 26 September 1771? Perhaps Mrs. Barnes’s letter of 22 July 1773 to her friend gives a clue:

if you have an hour to spare at any time when you are in Boston you will allow Prince to make some alterations in the Coppy he has taken from your Picture [by Copley] which he says he cannot do but from the life and Please to give him any direction you think proper as to the Dress of the Head. . . .

Did Prince also make a copy of the Copley portrait of Ralph Inman, a pastel now at the Boston Athenaeum? Might he have done portraits of Henry Barnes’s brothers-in-law, Nathaniel Coffin and Thomas Goldthwaite?

What is certain is, that, in February 1773, Prince signed and dated the portrait of William Duguid a Boston merchant (shown).

Soon after, politics and escalating tensions terminated Christian Barnes’s enthusiastic support of her talented slave. In March 1776, Christian and Henry Barnes and their daughter Chrisy sailed for Bristol, England, never to return. Chrisy died of consumption in 1782.

The Barnes house in Marlborough was at first occupied by General Henry Knox. Barnes’s niece, Catharine Goldthwait, who had tried to salvage the estate by petitioning the Court in December 1775, wrote Mrs. Barnes:

All your furniture removed over to the shop chamber, except the family pictures, which still hang in the Blue Room, & the Harpsichord that stands in the passage way, to be abused by the children and servants in passing through. Mr. Knox found it inconvenient to be moving furniture, so has taken nothing but the Linnen, which at this juncture is by far the most valuable part. **

How ironic that Knox, whose own in-laws were loyalists, should be occupying a loyalist house!

It is likely that Daphney remained in the area; she and Mrs. Barnes did communicate from time to time. In April, 1777, Prince, now free, enlisted in the Massachusetts militia. Taken ill, he made his will, which he signed “Prince Demah, limner,” and died in March 1778. ***

On 28 February 1784, Mrs. Barnes wrote Elizabeth “Betsy” Murray, a niece of her friend Elizabeth Smith Inman:

I shall inclose a line to Daphney to desire she would send my Chrisys Picture drawn by her Son, and must beg the favor of you to take charge of it, if Mrs. Forbes [Dorothy Murray Forbes] has parted with her Portrate, she will find upon her arrival the exact resemblance of it, hanging in my Parler dress’d in her white Satten Coat.

Spurred on by Peck’s and Bagger’s discoveries, let’s hope that some of the works by Prince Demah (Barnes) described in the letters cited here will be found.

* “Portraitist and slave in colonial Boston,” in The Magazine Antiques, Jan/Feb. 2015, pp 154-59.
** Nina Moore Tiffany, ed. Letters of James Murray, Loyalist (Boston: Gregg Press, 1972), p. 251.
*** The Magazine Antiques, p. 158.
The quotations from Mrs Barnes are from the Papers of Mrs. Christian Barnes, Library of Congress, DM16.157. The portrait of William Duguid by Prince Demah can be found on the Hingham Heritage Museum website HERE. It is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Prince: “[a] force of natural Genius”

Guest blogger, art historian, and an editor of In the Words of Women, Louise North writes about the black artist named Prince in this post and the one following.

It is always a delight when new details or insights are discovered about the women we cared about deeply and presented in our book In the Words of Women, but especially if our past researches had come to a dead end.

We wrote of loyalist Christian Arbuthnot Barnes and her outrage and fear as dissensions increased between her family and her neighbors in the late 1760s. Thanks to letters she wrote to her best friend Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith, a successful Boston business woman (who was visiting England at the time), we learn how her husband Henry had been labeled an enemy to his country [Dec. 1769] and, six months later, how his effigy had been placed on a horse, which was let “loose about the Town, with an infamous Paper Pin’d to the Breast, which was sum’d up with wishing of us all in Hell.” Henry had been a merchant and dry goods importer in Marlborough, Massachusetts since 1753, had served as a magistrate, and was one of the largest taxpayers in the town. He also owned several slaves, among them Juliet and Daphney.

Amidst all the turmoil, there was a welcome distraction: Mrs. Barnes discovered that Daphney’s son Prince showed great artistic talent and, as she wrote Mrs. Smith, he was painting her picture. He also “has taken a Coppy of my Brothers extremely well” [20 Nov. 1769]—this probably refers to a brother in law. By 13 March 1770, Prince was

fix’d in one corner of the room improving himself in the Art of Painting . . . . were I only to descant on the Qualifications of my Limner it would be a Subject for several Sheets. He is a most surprising instance of the force of natural Genius for without the least instruction or improvment he has taken several Faces which are thought to be very well done, he has taken a Coppy of my Picture which I think has more of my resemblance than Coplings [John S. Copley]. He is now taking his own face which I will certainly send you as it must be valued as a curiosity by any Friend you shall please to bestow it upon. We are at great loss for proper materials, at Present he has workd only with Crayons [pastels] and them very bad ones and we are so ignorant as not to know what they are to be laid on. He has hetherto used Blue Paper but I think something better may be found out. If you should meet in your Travils with any one who is a Proficient in the art I wish you would make some inquerys into these perticulas for people in general think Mr. Copling will not be willing to give him any instruction and you know there is nobody else in Boston that does any thing at the Business . . . intend to Exhibit him to the Publick and don’t doubt he will do Honour to the profession.

You Laugh now and think this is one of Mr. Barnes Scheems, but you are quite mistaken it is intirely my own, and as it is the only one I ever ingag’d in I shall be greatly disapointed if it does not succeed. . . . as he was Born in our family he is of Tory Principles, but of that I am not quite so certain as he had not yet declar’d himself.

Mrs. Barnes sent the pastel copy of herself to Mrs. Smith. More about Prince in the next post.

The quoted passage can be found on page 215 of In the Words of Women. All other quotations from Mrs Barnes are from the Papers of Mrs. Christian Barnes, Library of Congress, DM16.157. The portrait of Christian Barnes is by Prince and can be found on the Hingham Heritage Museum website HERE.

Fraktur, Pennsylvania Folk Art

The illustration on the left introduces Part III of In the Words of Women—”Women in the Emerging Nation”. Titled “Laedy Waschington,” it is the oddest and most quirky image of Martha Washington you are likely to see. An example of folk art called Fraktur, it is peculiar to the German-American community in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The term derives from the Latin word for “broken,” which refers to lettering characterized by many angles. Practitioners dashed off illustrations in vibrant colors on single pages of paper commemorating important events in the lives of ordinary individuals such as marriages and baptisms, decorating them with hearts and flowers, stars and birds, whatever struck their fancy.

A recent article in The New York Times, “Drawn, Elaborately” lists a number of exhibits and auctions soon to open featuring Fraktur at places like Winterthur, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and on January 24, the Winter Antiques Show in Manhattan. Few of the artists can be identified by name and are most often referred to by their motifs, as in the Ruffled Tulip Artist, or their subjects—the illustrator of “Laedy Waschington” is The Sussel-Washington Artist.

The example of Fraktur on the right, titled “New Year’s Wish,” was created by an artist who is identified as Johann Carl Scheibeler. Its text, translated from the German is as follows:

“Jesus! To the new year. Praise to God, the new year has come once more. The entire Christian host shall praise God with prayers, the old age and youth. Let peace and unity reign at all times, that hatred and envy will disappear, that love bind, now and with this new year. O Lord! Make my wishes come true. Anno Domini 1798.

The text in left column reads “A house is beautifully adorned,” continued in the right column: “where unity reigns.”

“Laedy Waschington” is by The Sussel-Washington Artist; Berks County, Pennsylvania, ca. 1780; in watercolor and ink on paper. It is at the American Folk Art Museum, New York, gift of Ralph Esmerian. “The New Year’s Wish” is at the Free Library of Philadelphia. See more examples of Fraktur on the Free Library’s WEBSITE.

posted January 19th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

A Sampler: pictorial, sweet, and rather whimsical


This lovely sampler was made by a Boston girl named Millisent Connor in 1799 when she was ten—so says the little “banner” toward the top. Embroidered with silk thread on linen it is quite different from the usual “marking sampler,” the first needlework project for most young girls which displayed their mastery of stitches as well as the alphabet and numbers. This sampler is pictorial, sweet and rather whimsical—a man is shown walking his dog. One presumes the girl in the door of the house is Millisent of whom, sadly, nothing more is known other than this small embroidered scene made by her.

The knowledge of embroidery stitches apparently had a practical use for girls later in life. As wives they marked each piece of household linen (among their most valuable possessions) with a cross stitch, their initials, and a number.

The sampler is one of several illustrating the folk art of the eighteenth century accompanying an essay on the subject by Amelia Peck, Department of American Decorative Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both can be viewed online here.

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