Here is a fun anecdote from Graphic Arts curator Lauren Hewes that highlights both the value of AAS’s online illustrated inventories and how our online resources can help to put new items on The Acquisitions Table:
One day this past year a dentist in Alabama was on Google searching for more information about a pastel he had bought at a Louisiana auction in 2009. In his search he came across our AAS portraits online, including illustrations and text about all of our painted portraits. He contacted me with questions about the artist Gerritt Schipper and we had a lovely correspondence, which resulted in the Society purchasing the pastel shown at right.
The profile portrait is of Hannah Church Weld (1733-1804), the wife of Edward Weld, a prosperous Boston merchant. Her portrait was of interest to AAS for a number of reasons, but the one that tops the list is that Mrs. Weld was also the mother-in-law of Isaiah Thomas, Jr. and we are particularly interested in materials relating to the family of our founder. The AAS portrait website contains images and information on the six pastels of the Thomas family made by Gerritt Schipper in 1804 (which is how our Googling dentist found us). Schipper drew pastel portraits of two of her daughters during his travels in Boston, Salem, and Worcester in August and September of 1804. Hannah Church Weld died in September 14th, 1804, and so, if done from life, this could be the last likeness made of her, taken at the age of 71. Alternatively, the pastel could have been completed posthumously. The early ownership of the pastel is unknown, but based on an inscription on the verso, the piece came down through another line of the Weld family and was not owned by the Thomas’s. Now it has found its way back to a permanent home with the other Thomas family portraits.
The online illustrated inventory of AAS portraits describes a fascinating collection that many people, even those who know AAS well, don’t know that we have. Along with images of the oil paintings, busts, and miniatures, the website contains biographical portraits and catalog information from the book Portraits in the Collection of the American Antiquarian Society by Lauren Hewes (available for purchase from Oak Knoll).
In the online Introduction to the American Painted Portrait and Sculpture Collection, Georgia Barnhill and Caroline Stoffel highlight some of the unique features of AAS’s portraits collection. For instance:
Since many of the portraits came to AAS together with manuscript collections or were commissioned by the Society, we have extraordinary information about the circumstances of their production. There are occasional first-person accounts of the process of sitting for portraits as well as important documents revealing the costs of the paintings and even their frames. Newspaper advertisements found in the AAS collection provide documentation about itinerant artists who came to Worcester. In an effort to obtain commissions for one artist, Isaiah Thomas, Jr., placed an advertisement in the September 12, 1804, issue of the Worcester Spy saying that examples of Gerrit Schipper’s portraits could be seen in his home or office. Other early nineteenth-century Worcester residents, such as Edward D. Bangs and Isaiah Thomas, traveled to Boston to sit for oil portraits by artists established in Boston studios; later in the century, Stephen Salisbury II went to New York for sittings with Daniel Huntington.
Some special features of the AAS portraits online include:
- Tips on how to search other AAS databases and inventories for more portraits
- An index listing only Worcester sitters
- A thumbnail gallery with images of each of the portraits (see the screen-shot below)
To highlight just one of the images, the striking Hannah Bush portrait pictured at right hangs over the card catalogs in AAS’s reading room and is a personal favorite of many visitors and staff alike. But could it actually be, as one reader suggested, a portrait of Daniel Day Lewis in drag? Click here for a picture of Daniel Day Lewis to compare to Hannah Bush’s portrait and decide for yourself.
Or just have fun browsing through the thumbnail gallery of portraits on your own — you never know which one may strike your fancy!