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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Early American Portraits in Historic Hudson Valley's Collection

Winter Antiques Show Loan Exhibit: Early American Portraits in Historic Hudson Valley's Collection by Waddell W. Stillman
by Waddell W. Stillman

Fig. 1: View of Van Cortlandt Manor House parlor showing portraits of Captain Caleb Beck and Anna Mol Fairly Beck, att. to Nehemiah Partridge (1683–ca. 1737), Schenectady, N.Y., 1724–1725. Oil on canvas, 30 x 26 inches; 29-3/4 x 25-5/8 inches. Photography by Bryan Haeffele. (VC.58.19, 20).
Fig. 1: View of Van Cortlandt Manor House parlor showing portraits of Captain Caleb Beck and Anna Mol Fairly Beck, att. to Nehemiah Partridge (1683–ca. 1737), Schenectady, N.Y., 1724–1725. Oil on canvas, 30 x 26 inches; 29-3/4 x 25-5/8 inches. Photography by Bryan Haeffele. (VC.58.19, 20).

Historic Hudson Valley, a museum of historic sites, possesses a strong American fine arts collection. Particularly notable are its portraits of New Yorkers, their kinfolk, and their associates dating from the colonial and early national periods. These canvases by John Wollaston, Gilbert Stuart, and other artists have a direct or a thematic connection to four of Historic Hudson Valley’s sites: Philipsburg Manor, Van Cortlandt Manor, Sunnyside, and Montgomery Place. While significant in their own right, these works also contribute to the authenticity and completeness of Historic Hudson Valley’s properties and their interiors. Some have hung in these properties for one or even two centuries.

Among the earliest portraits are those of Caleb and Anna Beck of Schenectady, painted circa 1724 and attributed to Nehemiah Partridge (1683–ca. 1737) (Fig. 1). Partridge was typical of many early artists in his versatility and his mobility. To make ends meet, he worked not only as a portrait painter but also as a jappaner, a decorative painter, and a dealer in paints. This Boston-based artist traveled to the Hudson River Valley and to Virginia in search of sitters.1 Catherine Beck, the sitters’ great-granddaughter who married into the Van Cortlandt family in 1836 brought these canvases to Van Cortlandt Manor House, located in Croton-on-Hudson, in 1855.

Fig. 2: Att. to Gerardus Duyckinck (1695–1742) or Evert Duyckinck III (1677–1727), Abraham Van Cortlandt, New York, ca. 1727. Oil on canvas, 66 x 41 inches. Gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr. (VC.58.22).  Fig. 3: View of Van Cortlandt Manor dining room showing Portrait of a Woman, probably Gertrude Van Cortlandt Beekman (1688–1777), att. to Evert Duyckinck III (1677–1727), New York, ca. 1726. Oil on canvas, 37-3/4 x 33 inches. Photography by Bryan Haeffele. Gift of Mrs. Helen C. Gillespie. (VC.2007.1).
Fig. 2: Att. to Gerardus Duyckinck (1695–1742) or Evert Duyckinck III (1677–1727), Abraham Van Cortlandt, New York, ca. 1727. Oil on canvas, 66 x 41 inches. Gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr. (VC.58.22).

Fig. 3: View of Van Cortlandt Manor dining room showing Portrait of a Woman, probably Gertrude Van Cortlandt Beekman (1688–1777), att. to Evert Duyckinck III (1677–1727), New York, ca. 1726. Oil on canvas, 37-3/4 x 33 inches. Photography by Bryan Haeffele. Gift of Mrs. Helen C. Gillespie. (VC.2007.1).

The companion portraits are typical in pose for a married couple, with the subjects turned toward each other. The innkeeper Beck chose to have a ship and two navigational instruments placed in the background of his portrait, referencing his former and perhaps more exciting career as a mariner. The genteel and flowing robe worn by Mrs. Beck does not hint at her occupation as a tavern keeper, a vocation she continued to pursue after her husband’s death. While the Becks’ clothing may be refined, their weather-beaten faces suggest a harder existence.

The Duyckinck dynasty of artists is represented by two canvases at Van Cortlandt Manor. A princely image of Abraham Van Cortlandt that has hung in the manor house for centuries was produced either by Gerardus Duyckinck (1695–1746) or Evert Duyckinck III (1677–1727) (Fig. 2).2 Like many other colonial painters, the Duyckincks relied on prints of English celebrities for inspiration and information. Abraham Van Cortlandt’s magnificent architectural surroundings and graceful pose were borrowed from a 1701 mezzotint of Richard, Lord Clifford, and Lady Jane Boyle after a portrait by Godfrey Kneller. The artist’s aim was to express high social status rather than capturing the sitter’s personality.

Fig. 4: John Wollaston (active ca. 1742–1775), Mary Philipse, New York, ca. 1750. Oil on canvas, 29 x 24 inches. Gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr. (PM.80.2).  Mary Philipse is perhaps best known for her friendship with George Washington during the 1750s, but her circumstances changed dramatically later. The extended Philipse family remained loyal to the crown during the American Revolution. These once-wealthy and powerful Anglo-Dutch elites were attainted of treason, fled to England, and their property was seized by the patriot government.
Fig. 4: John Wollaston (active ca. 1742–1775), Mary Philipse, New York, ca. 1750. Oil on canvas, 29 x 24 inches. Gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr. (PM.80.2).

Mary Philipse is perhaps best known for her friendship with George Washington during the 1750s, but her circumstances changed dramatically later. The extended Philipse family remained loyal to the crown during the American Revolution. These once-wealthy and powerful Anglo-Dutch elites were attainted of treason, fled to England, and their property was seized by the patriot government.
Also attributed to Evert Duyckinck III is a previously unpublished portrait, a relatively recent gift to Historic Hudson Valley, now in the dining room of Van Cortlandt Manor House (Fig. 3). The subject is thought to be Gertrude Van Cortlandt Beekman (1688–1777), rendered circa 1726. Mrs. Beekman was particularly beloved by the Van Cortlandt household in Croton. Nephew Pierre Van Cortlandt enjoyed a special relationship with his wealthy but childless aunt. His wife and children took refuge at their Aunt Beekman’s house in Rhinebeck during the Revolutionary War when they were forced to leave the Croton manor house.

The English painter John Wollaston (active 1742–1775) helped introduce the new rococo style to New Yorkers circa 1750. In contrast to the heavy Mannerist style employed by Partridge and the Duyckincks, Wollaston’s aesthetic emphasized asymmetry, delicacy, and the play of light. The itinerant Wollaston, who traveled as far as India in search of patrons, worked in the New York area between 1749 and 1752. It was then that he painted members of the Philipse family, including Mary (1730–1825) and Margaret (1733–1752) (Figs. 4, 5), whose likenesses are owned by Historic Hudson Valley.3

Fig. 5: John Wollaston (active ca. 1742–1775), Margaret Philipse, New York, ca. 1750. Oil on canvas, 29 x 24 inches. Gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr. (PM.80.1). Fig. 6: Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827), Eva Margaret DePeyster, New York, June 1798. Oil on canvas, 29-1/2 x 24-1/2 inches. (PM.65.861).  Related to the sitter by marriage, Peale recorded in his diary that he painted the teenager’s likeness as a surprise for her parents while they attended church one Sunday in June 1798.
Fig. 5: John Wollaston (active ca. 1742–1775), Margaret Philipse, New York, ca. 1750. Oil on canvas, 29 x 24 inches. Gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr. (PM.80.1).
Fig. 6: Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827), Eva Margaret DePeyster, New York, June 1798. Oil on canvas, 29-1/2 x 24-1/2 inches. (PM.65.861).

Related to the sitter by marriage, Peale recorded in his diary that he painted the teenager’s likeness as a surprise for her parents while they attended church one Sunday in June 1798.

Fig. 7: Att. to James Peale (1749–1831), George Washington at Yorktown, Philadelphia, ca. 1795. Oil on canvas, 35-1/2 x 26-1/2 inches. (VC.80.8).  This depiction of General Washington at the final major battle of the Revolutionary War is attributed to James Peale. In 1779, the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania had commissioned Charles Willson Peale to paint a portrait of George Washington, the start of what would become a sort of Peale family business. Members of his family, including his brother James, took up their brushes and palettes to help satisfy the great demand for likenesses of “the Father of Our Country.”
Fig. 7: Att. to James Peale (1749–1831), George Washington at Yorktown, Philadelphia, ca. 1795. Oil on canvas, 35-1/2 x 26-1/2 inches. (VC.80.8).

This depiction of General Washington at the final major battle of the Revolutionary War is attributed to James Peale. In 1779, the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania had commissioned Charles Willson Peale to paint a portrait of George Washington, the start of what would become a sort of Peale family business. Members of his family, including his brother James, took up their brushes and palettes to help satisfy the great demand for likenesses of “the Father of Our Country.”
The almond-shaped eyes that Wollaston bestowed upon all of his subjects continue to intrigue viewers. Some art historians credit them to European enchantment with Asia, a penchant associated with the rococo style. An artistic conceit not found elsewhere in the American colonies, these refined eyes appear in the work of other English rococo painters, including Thomas Hudson. Wollaston’s careful attention to portraying shimmering silks, typical of the rococo fascination with shiny surfaces and reflected light, speaks of the artist’s early training as a drapery painter.

Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827), scion of the prolific dynasty of Peale painters, taught himself to paint before traveling to London to study with American expatriate Benjamin West. His portrait of Eva DePeyster (1782–1807) (Fig. 6) speaks to his devotion to family life, a theme he returned to again and again. Peale was related to the sitter by marriage, and he executed this portrait in Manhattan during a visit with his second wife to see her family.

A highly energetic artist, scientist, inventor, and museum founder, Peale theorized that anyone could learn to paint and instilled this belief in his sixteen children, many of whom he named after famous painters. While the Peales worked in many genres, they are perhaps best known for their depictions of George Washington. Along with Charles Willson Peale, James Peale and Rembrandt Peale are also represented in Historic Hudson Valley’s collection (Figs. 7, 8).

Fig. 8: Att. to Rembrandt Peale (1778–1819), Mary Pennington Barton, Philadelphia, ca. 1805. Oil on canvas, 26-1/4 x 21-3/8 inches. Gift of J. Dennis Delafield, MP. (88.213).  Rembrandt Peale, the second oldest son of Charles Willson Peale, studied art in London and France while also finding time to co-found a museum with his brother Raphaelle and helping his father to excavate mastodon skeletons. This portrait of Mary Pennington Barton (1771–1819)—neoclassical in air, subtly tinted, and finely painted—is typical of his refined offerings. Mrs. Barton’s dreamy gaze is not hers alone, but can be found in other Rembrandt Peale portraits.  Fig. 9: Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828), Captain Frederick Philipse, New York, 1793–1795. Oil on canvas, 58-1/4 x 47-1/2 inches. Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr. (PM.80.11).  Loyal to the throne and anxious for work, the Rhode Island-born Stuart spent the Revolutionary War years in London studying painting. There he adopted the elegant style of portraiture practiced by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds. He settled in New York in 1793. Hallmarks of Stuart’s style include his secure application of paint, bold brushwork, and the layering of glazes that give his subjects glowing skin tones.
Fig. 8: Att. to Rembrandt Peale (1778–1819), Mary Pennington Barton, Philadelphia, ca. 1805. Oil on canvas, 26-1/4 x 21-3/8 inches. Gift of J. Dennis Delafield, MP. (88.213).

Rembrandt Peale, the second oldest son of Charles Willson Peale, studied art in London and France while also finding time to co-found a museum with his brother Raphaelle and helping his father to excavate mastodon skeletons. This portrait of Mary Pennington Barton (1771–1819)—neoclassical in air, subtly tinted, and finely painted—is typical of his refined offerings. Mrs. Barton’s dreamy gaze is not hers alone, but can be found in other Rembrandt Peale portraits.

Fig. 9: Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828), Captain Frederick Philipse, New York, 1793–1795. Oil on canvas, 58-1/4 x 47-1/2 inches. Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr. (PM.80.11).

Loyal to the throne and anxious for work, the Rhode Island-born Stuart spent the Revolutionary War years in London studying painting. There he adopted the elegant style of portraiture practiced by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds. He settled in New York in 1793. Hallmarks of Stuart’s style include his secure application of paint, bold brushwork, and the layering of glazes that give his subjects glowing skin tones.

Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828) also supported himself by producing likenesses of Washington, although he is here represented by the portrait of an American with a much different life story (Fig. 9 ). Captain Frederick Philipse (1755–1829), a junior member of a powerful Loyalist family, managed to hold on to his property in the Hudson Valley even after the rest of his family’s base in New York had been destroyed during the American Revolution. Grand in manner and striking in effect, the portrait demonstrates the elegant, painterly style Stuart had perfected in England and Ireland. It shows the approach most European customers favored, but one less popular in the United States, where clients preferred more realistic depictions.

Fig. 10: Att. to Jean François de Vallée (active 1808–1818), Andrew Jackson, New Orleans, 1815. Watercolor on ivory in a leather-covered case, 5-3/4 x 4-3/8 x 5/8 in. (closed). Gift of J. Dennis Delafield (MP.91.11).  The miniature is framed with the following inscription: “Mr. E. Livingston is requested to accept this/picture as a mark of the sense I entertain/of his public services, and as a token of/my private friendship and esteem./Headquarters N. Orleans./My 1st 1815. Andrew Jackson.”
Fig. 10: Att. to Jean François de Vallée (active 1808–1818), Andrew Jackson, New Orleans, 1815. Watercolor on ivory in a leather-covered case, 5-3/4 x 4-3/8 x 5/8 in. (closed). Gift of J. Dennis Delafield (MP.91.11).

The miniature is framed with the following inscription: “Mr. E. Livingston is requested to accept this/picture as a mark of the sense I entertain/of his public services, and as a token of/my private friendship and esteem./Headquarters N. Orleans./My 1st 1815. Andrew Jackson.”
Some of the artists mentioned here also practiced the exacting art of watercolor painting on ivory. Historic Hudson Valley’s collection of over thirty miniatures is remarkable in that many of the works’ histories have remained intact. Most significant is the earliest known portrait of Andrew Jackson (1767–1845), made by Jean François de Vallée (active in New Orleans 1808–1818) in 1815 (Fig. 10). The future president presented the miniature to his friend and future owner of Montgomery Place, Edward Livingston. The two had first met in Washington, D.C. during the 1790s. They renewed their acquaintance twenty years later when Jackson came to New Orleans to prepare defense against the British in 1814. Livingston, now an established leader in the Louisiana Territory, served as Jackson’s translator and as his civilian aide-de-camp. Vallée’s Continental European origins are apparent in his reliance on opaque colors and the rendering of Jackson’s notoriously bushy mane slicked down to form wispy bangs in the French Empire style. The inscription framed with the painting on ivory reflects two aspects of miniature presentation: the traditions of honoring political loyalty and exchanging tokens between friends.

Two likenesses made by John Wesley Jarvis (1780–1840) illustrate contrasting experiences and outlooks present in New York circa 1810. The elderly Lieutenant Governor Pierre Van Cortlandt (1721–1814), dressed in old-fashioned clothing with his blue-veined hand clutching a cane, fixes the viewer’s stare with a weary yet kindly gaze (Fig. 11). This direct and psychologically revealing portrait suggests the hard-won path taken by many Patriots. Van Cortlandt had made countless personal sacrifices during and after the Revolution to assure the success of the young nation.

Fig. 11: View of Van Cortlandt Manor house parlor showing Pierre Van Cortlandt by John Wesley Jarvis (1780–1840), probably New York City, ca. 1810. Oil on canvas, 33 x 27 inches. Photography by Bryan Haeffele. (VC.58.189).  The charmingly ostentatious John Wesley Jarvis could be considered one of New York’s first bohemians. His splashy appearance as an adult could not have been anticipated during his childhood. Jarvis was born in England into a religious family. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a great-great-uncle; a fact that would have been warmly received by the Van Cortlandts, early supporters of the Methodist movement in New York. As a child, Jarvis came to America with his family. Aside from painting trips made in the American South, the prolific artist used New York as a base of operations for most of his career. Fig. 12: John Wesley Jarvis (1780–1840), Washington Irving, New York, 1809. Oil on wooden panel, 39-3/4 x 32-5/8 inches. (SS.62.2).  Jarvis captured the upstart Irving at the time of his first international literary success, Diedrich Knickerbocker’s A History of New York
Fig. 11: View of Van Cortlandt Manor house parlor showing Pierre Van Cortlandt by John Wesley Jarvis (1780–1840), probably New York City, ca. 1810. Oil on canvas, 33 x 27 inches. Photography by Bryan Haeffele. (VC.58.189).

The charmingly ostentatious John Wesley Jarvis could be considered one of New York’s first bohemians. His splashy appearance as an adult could not have been anticipated during his childhood. Jarvis was born in England into a religious family. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a great-great-uncle; a fact that would have been warmly received by the Van Cortlandts, early supporters of the Methodist movement in New York. As a child, Jarvis came to America with his family. Aside from painting trips made in the American South, the prolific artist used New York as a base of operations for most of his career.

Fig. 12: John Wesley Jarvis (1780–1840), Washington Irving, New York, 1809. Oil on wooden panel, 39-3/4 x 32-5/8 inches. (SS.62.2).

Jarvis captured the upstart Irving at the time of his first international literary success, Diedrich Knickerbocker’s A History of New York.
While the likeness of Pierre Van Cortlandt epitomized the eighteenth-century past, the portrait of Washington Irving (1783–1859) anticipated what lay ahead for Americans in its romanticism and sentiment (Fig. 12). Jarvis shows Irving as a Byronic figure on the brink of literary success. Perhaps the most widely reproduced portrait of Irving, it symbolizes his lifelong fascination with the creative spirit. The portrait is on view at Historic Hudson Valley’s Sunnyside, Irving’s home.

Between the years 1720 to 1820, professional painters from Nehemiah Partridge to John Wesley Jarvis found that they had to remain flexible and mobile at a time of limited art patronage. Many of them achieved success in New York, even though the city had not yet become the art capital of the United States. At Historic Hudson Valley’s sites, the portraits they fashioned are not just ornaments, but also help bring the people of the past to life.


Waddell W. Stillman is president of Historic Hudson Valley and a member of the management committee of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area. He also serves on the Boards of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

All images courtesy, Historic Hudson Valley.


1. Mary Black, “Contributions Toward A History of Early Eighteenth–Century New York Portraiture: Identification of the Aetatis Suae and Wendell Limners,” The American Art Journal, 12.4 (1980): 5–31. Black connected Nehemiah Partridge to a group of Albany-area portraits, including Mr. and Mrs. Beck, based on an account entry in the Evert Wendell Day Book, New-York Historical Society. Partridge received ten pounds and a horse in exchange for painting four portraits of members of the Wendell family. Because the Wendell portraits survive, Black could tie other portraits similar in style to Partridge. Caleb Beck also had had reason to know Nehemiah Partridge, since they both had lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and were distantly related.

2. Portraits of Abraham and his brothers John and Pierre appear in nineteenth-century images of the Van Cortlandt Manor House hallway. Van Cortlandt descendants sold the portraits of John and Pierre circa 1940. The canvases are in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.

3. Other Philipse family portraits by Wollaston can be found at the New-York Historical Society and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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