Sale 1016 Lot 95

ROBERT FIELD 
British (1769-1829) 
The Meredith-Moreau-Pratt Miniature of President George Washington, 1801 
watercolor, signed R.F. lower left and dated "1801". 
3 3/8 inches x 2 9/16 inches 

Sale 1016 Lot 96

WALTER ROBERTSON 
Irish (active in America, 1793-1796) 
Portrait of Martha Washington 
watercolor, unsigned. 
2 3/8 x 1 7/8 inches 

Charles Henry Hart in his 1917 introduction to the Historical Descriptive and Critical Catalogue of the Works of American Artists in the Collection of Herbert L. Pratt describes his hopes that the catalog will introduce “many persons to the importance of collecting American art and that it may be an incentive for each to go and do likewise before it is too late by the absorption of available examples by the great museums of the Country.” Pratt, an early collector of American Art, amassed an impressive collection paintings, drawings, pastels and miniatures in the early 20th century. The catalog of the collection, compiled by Hart, describes paintings by the “who is who” in early American art; John Singleton Copley, Thomas Sully, Gilbert Stuart, Benjamin West and Charles Wilson Peale to name a few. The present miniatures, portraits of George and Martha Washington are rare gems of early American Art. Pratt astutely acquired both miniatures to form a pendant pair of the First President and First Lady. 

Hart’s catalog description of Martha Washington’s portrait aptly describes the small memento, “The execution and color of this portrait can be given no other term than exquisite. It is everything that a fine miniature portrait should be and is particularly interesting as a portrait of Mrs. Washington for its distinction and nice characterization, as also for its agreement in features with the portraits by Robertson, Field and others and its unlikeness to those in Stuart’s famous Athenaeum head where the nose is concave, while in all other portraits of her it is convex.”[1] 

Hart attributes the work to Henry Elouis a French-born artist working in America. Although he is known to have given Eleanor “Nellie” Parke Custis painting lessons, more recent scholarship reattributes the present miniature to Walter Robertson.[2] Robertson was an Irish artist who visited American between 1793 and 1796. He was friends with Gilbert Stuart and came to America to make “pleasing miniature copies of Stuart’s portraits.”[3] The Robertson attribution would also account for Mrs. Washington’s blue eyes, an “unconvincing characterization” the artist was known to include. Robin Jaffee Frank in her book Love and Loss writes, “Many of Robertson’s elegant, solemn sitters have a certain sameness: posed against brownish backgrounds they appear to be members of one family, sharing the genetic traits of rounded, usually blue eyes set into deep sockets and elongated noses.”[4]

Although none of the references mention the plaited hair on the reverse of the miniature, it is thought to be either George Washington’s, Martha Washington’s or a combination of the two. This was typical of portrait miniatures as a way to remember sweethearts and distant or lost friends. The Annual Report of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association (1969) notes that Robertson was paid for “two pictures of the President and one of Mrs. Washington in November 1794.” 

                  Hart’s description of Robert Field’s Washington reads, “This miniature is one of several copies made by Field from Stuart’s portrait of Washington for Mrs. Washington and which she presented as mementoes of the General to his particular friends. It is a very beautiful portrait, but not a very close copy of the original and is especially interesting from the fact that Mrs. Washington selected Stuart’s first portrait of Washington, showing the right side of the face, to be copied, she preferring it to the Athenaeum head, that did not satisfy her as a likeness of her husband. This one was given to Samuel Meredith, Treasurer of the United States, from whose family it passed to the late Mr. C.C. Moreau, of Brooklyn, N.Y. and thence to Mr. Pratt.”[5]

                  Robert Field’s portrait of George Washington was painted after a portrait by Gilbert Stuart of the so-called Vaughn Type. Field borrowed the portrait from William Winstanley, a mutual acquaintance through Field’s friendship with Dr. and Mrs. William Thornton of Washington City.  Mrs. Thornton notes in her diary, “Mr. Field called and borrowed of Mr. Winstanley, Genl. Washington’s picture by Stuart, to copy in miniature.” She later writes, “Mr. Field brought the miniature of Genl. Washington which he is painting from Stuart’s original lent him by Mr. Winstanley: it is a beautiful picture.” 

The present miniature is presumed to be the first miniature copied from the Stuart portrait and presented to Mrs. Washington as a prototype. One year after Washington’s death (1799), Mrs. Washington selected Field for a commission of miniatures of her late husband to give to their family and a close friend. From November 1800 to the following year, Field completed several “remarkably beautiful and highly-prized miniatures of George Washington,” and two portraits of Mrs. Washington. Eight are known, six depicting Washington as president in civilian dress and two in military attire. Each is based on a Stuart Vaughn-type portrait owned by Winstanley, with modifications made presumably per the request of Mrs. Washington to make the miniatures more like the subject. Apart from those commissioned by Mrs. Washington, Field was commissioned by the late president’s friends for additional copies. Field writes of the present Meredith-Moreau-Pratt Miniature “The background is more minutely cross-hatched, and the mid-height falls at the top of the cravat instead of at the edge of the chin as in its fellows. It is thus the most aberrant member, which may indicate that it is the master-copy.”[6] 

The letter reproduced here was sent to Charles C. Moreau who purchased the portrait miniature from Samuel R. Meredith in 1858. [7]

 

 


[1] Hart, Charles H. “Historical Descriptive and Critical Catalogue of the Works of American Artists in Collection of Herbert L. Pratt.” New York, 1917, p. 109.

 

[2] See Christie’s, Jan. 16-17, 2003, lot 338. A 24 x 20-inch portrait matching the miniature inscribed, “Martha Washington painted by H. Elouis from the life while giving her art lessons.” This possibly indicates that Nellie Parke Custis was the original owner of Robertson’s miniature and Elouis portrait was done as a later copy. 

 

[3] Wehle, Harry B, and Theodore Bolton. “American Miniatures, 1730-1850: One Hundred and Seventy-Three Portraits.” Garden City, N.Y: Garden City Publishing Co., Inc, 1937, p. 30.

 

[4] Frank, Robin J., Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures. (New Haven: Yale University, 2000): 158.

 

[5] Hart, p. 134

 

[6] Hart, p. 165

 

[7] Johnston, Elizabeth B. “Original Portraits of Washington,” Boston: Osgood and Company, 1882, p. 116.

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