Sunday, March 17, 2019

WHEN THE WALLS OF MONTICELLO "HUNG THICK" WITH EUROPEAN OLD MASTERS: THOMAS JEFFERSON, FEDERAL ERA AMERICA'S FIRST CONNOISSEUR

The painting seen below by Johan Zoffany, represents a depiction of a group of lively and enthusiastic English gentlemen gathering in the Tribuna in Florence to admire some of the Grand Ducal Collections. It  would have assuredly  represented the aspirations of young Thomas Jefferson when planning to build and appoint his Virginia mountaintop home in Albermarle County, Virginia.

In this sumptuous painted panorama, we see these privileged  British art enthusiasts on the Grand Tour inspecting some of the greatest landmarks of Western European Classical sculpture alongside milestones of Renaissance and Baroque Italian, Dutch and Flemish painting assembled by the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany and, by this time (the painting was executed 1772 to 1778) enjoyed by Leopold II, the Hapsburg Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Austrian Hapsburgs had taken over after the death of the last Medici.  With the admirable proficiency that characterizes Zoffany's oeuvre, the viewer is treated to an art exhibition of the the first water in just one work of art which includes a gallery of masterpieces of antique sculpture likeTthe Medici Venus, The Dancing Faun, The Two Wrestlers, and an embracing Cupid and Psyche. On the walls are plastered some of the most notable paintings in the World including Rafael's Madonna della Seggiola, St. John in the Wilderness, and The Madonna del CardellinoCleopatra by Guido Reni, The Consequences of War by Rubens as well as a widely admired Madonna and Child by Coreggio among many others.

Thomas Jefferson would have not been out of place and quite honestly can be imagined to have been like the proverbial child in the candy store had he had a chance to ever been allowed to be part of such a gathering which in many ways embodied, not only his own aspirations as a collector living with fine works of art, but of an entire generation of gentlemen of breeding, education and culture during the Age of Enlightenment.



It is hard to pinpoint a time or moment when Jefferson's profound and sustained interest in the fine arts - and in particular European masters - began.  . But it's clear the interest was ignited early in his life when he was still a student at William and Mary. While there, he was taken into a circle of older gentlemen of consequence that included the Royal Governor, his law professor George Wythe, and other notable personages in Williamsburg society who gathered regularly to play music and discuss a variety of topics that were stimulating and involved with politics, philosophy and culture.  But in these formative years, it seems that it was in his reading, Thomas Jefferson began to become acquainted with cannons of beauty and good taste as it was understood among those of his European contemporaries whose opinions on these matters carried great weight to the point of being widely accepted by the aristocracy and gentry of 18th Century Britain and the European Continent.  Among the many published works that seemed to have developed Jefferson's taste were Jonathan Richardson's An Essay on the Theory of Painting (published in 1715) and An Account of Some of the Statues, Bas Reliefs, Drawings and Picturesque in Italy... With Remarks (published in 1722). Another publication that seems to have ingrained much into Jefferson's art appreciation with an appreciation for the European masters was Daniel Webb's An Inquiry Into The Beauties of Painting (published in 1769). Additional publications to make an impact included Joseph Addison's Remarks on Several Parts of Italy, Etc (published in 1745) and it was in Francois Perrier's Segmenta Nobilium Signorium et Statuarium (published in Rome in 1638) that Jefferson was able to view some of the great examples of Greek and Roman sculpture in Italian Papal and Princely collections that illustrated the books in fine engravings.

This reading was later supplemented by a crucial journey in 1766,  to Philadelphia and New York where Jefferson was able to visit the houses of some gentlemen of consequence who owned fine copies of European old master paintings. Among them was the eminent physician, amateur and classical enthusiast Dr. John Morgan who was one of the few North American colonists to have embarked on a European Grand Tour from which he returned with what was widely accepted at the time to constitute the most impressive art collection of European paintings by Italian and other masters. Although there is no certainty that Jefferson viewed this renown collection, it's plausible he did.  This is a portrait of Dr. Morgan painted by his friend, the Swiss painter Angelica Kauffmann. And in addition to Dr. Morgan's collection, the scholar Seymour Howard who has published profoundly researched material on young Thomas Jefferson's formation as an art collector, asserts there were other gentlemen of the same circles who had notable collections (albeit not as important as Morgan's) which could have easily been made available to the young insatiably curious landowner from Virginia. Among other notable Philadelphia residents in the Morgan circle was the former Royal Governor of Pennsylvania, James Hamilton. Hamilton's collection was hardly insignificant either. It included an original depiction of Saint Ignatius by the Spanish master Murillo. His garden was decorated with marble sculpture after the antique. Hamilton's brother in law, William Allen was also a connoisseur of repute and known at the "Mycaenas of Philadelphia" who sent his son and nephew on the European Grand Tour along with Benjamin West!  But Dr. Morgan seems to have been the collector and connoisseur to whom all Philadelphia deferred in questions of taste. Incidentally, Seymour Howard admits no concrete proof of Jefferson visiting Morgan's collection exists to date. But he is also inclined to support the thesis that Jefferson probably did see and enjoy it. And, with that probably being the situation, it's not impossible to imagine such an experience must have made a lasting impression on the budding young Virginian 


It is probably about 1771, when the 28 year old Virginia squire and recent bridegroom Thomas Jefferson began to plan his mountain top retreat and residence, Monticello, that he drew up a "wish list" of copies of well known and widely admired Greek and Roman sculpture and European painting with which he hoped to adorn the interior of the house. It gives us a glimpse of his early aspirations in which Monticello was being envisioned somewhat along the lines of a conventional European Wunderkammer (Cabinet of Curiosities) and a toss up of library with art gallery.  It is also interesting to observe that Jefferson leaned emphatically at this time to Classical sculpture and that it appears painting was secondary as a consideration.  On that wish list, it's not surprising that still familiar landmarks of the Classical World were considered essential. Among them, Jefferson included the Medici Venus, seen below...



It is interesting to learn that, as Monticello was being planned and built (only to be rebuilt and doubled in size after Jefferson returned from France where he was inspired to introduce French influences), he envisioned that Venus would occupy a niche on one side of the double doors leading into the main drawing room while on the other side of the doors a niche would display the Apollo of the Belvedere. The original Apollo in the Papal collections is seen below. It was kindly photographed by Olivier Bernier. 


It was not until many years later, that a pair of niches, no doubt originally conceived to display these aforementioned sculptures that never came to Monticello, were discovered during a restoration project in the 20th Century. The niches had been covered since anyone could remember by a pair of tall giltwood pier mirrors long understood to have been part of Jefferson's extensive Paris purchases that followed him back to North America.  Incidentally, the French provenance and origin of these large mirrors has been brought into question in recent years and they may, in fact, be English or perhaps American...


Another well known Classical sculpture on Jefferson's wish list was the muscular Farnese Hercules. And it is not uninteresting to learn that a decorative plaster copy of this one was among the first purchases Thomas Jefferson made shortly after arriving in Paris in 1784.  The original is seen below.


Interestingly, Jefferson was to eventually be given a fine marble copy of a large scale antique sculpture depicting a languidly reclining Ariadne in the early 19th Century by James Bowdoin III of Maine. It is seen below and can still be enjoyed as it was in Jefferson's day, in the Entrance Hall of Monticello.


It was not until a  41 year old recent widower with three daughters embarked with his oldest daughter Martha to undertake a diplomatic mission in Paris to assist then American Envoy Benjamin Franklin, that the chance to really visit great collections, develop a sharper eye, and make notable acquisitions became a reality that would had never been available if he had never left late 18th Century North America.

"Behold me at length on the vaunted scene of Europe!" Jefferson writes in a letter to a friend back home. "It may not be necessary for your information that I should enter into details concerning it. But you are perhaps, curious to know how this new scene has struck a savage of the mountains of America". Savage indeed!  The first portrait of Jefferson, shortly after the subsequent retirement of Franklin, after which he succeeded the latter as official American Ministre Plenipotentaire to the Court of Louis XVI, depicts a cosmopolitan who has last little time in assuming the mien and manners of a grand seigneur of the Ancien Régime!  The portrait was painted by Mather Brown shortly after Jefferson's new appointment during one of his brief visits to transact business in London and visit with his close friends John and Abigail Adams. As is widely known, it was Adams that took on the daunting task of being the first American Envoy to the British Court of George III.


In October of Jefferson initially took a pleasant residence, The Hôtel Landron. It was located on the Cul de Sac Taitbout. And he didn't lose any time in seeking out appointments that were - if not of a princely splendour - noted by a quiet self assured patrician elegance.  Thanks to meticulously maintained account books in which his purchases were duly recorded, we learn his early embellishments to the Hôtel Landron included that plaster copy of the Farneses Hercules which is noted as a purchase on 26 October. The account books also record, purchases made an an auction held from 16 to 19 October of the collections of the late Monsieur De Billy who has been premier valet de garderobe du roi.  At that auction, Jefferson records he paid "2 small laughing busts, viz, an Ecce Homo and another 18 livres" On the 29th of the same month he notes the purchase of five paintings depicting "heads".  The Ecce Homo  was almost certainly a copy of the celebrated interpretation of this oeuvre by Guido Reni that was later noted in an inventory prepared by Jefferson after his retirement and permanent return to Monticello. The original after which Jefferson's copy was made is seen below. The current whereabouts of Jefferson's copy is unknown.  In this essay, I am not pretending to share a doctoral dissertation. My aim is to inform and share my life long enthusiasm for Jefferson as connoisseur and amateur of l'art de vivre.  Consequently, I shall herein share images of the original works of art after which Jefferson's copies were executed to provide a digital experience of what visitors to Monticello themselves enjoyed when they came to pay their respects and enjoy Jefferson's hospitality.



By the late summer of 1785, his new position as envoy necessitated relocation to a more important residence appropriate for his ambassadorial responsibilities. On 3 September 1785 Jefferson signed the lease to occupy the handsome house owned by Le Comte de Langeac. The Hôtel Langeac was a fine residence designed by no one less then Chalgrin and it was located on what was then "the sticks" on the edge of the capital in the 1780's on the corner of the Champs-Elysées and the rue de Berri at the site of the Grille de Chaillot.  The house appears on the left of the engraving below.


By the time the first year of acquisitions has wound up, it's possible to glean a calming down and increase of discernment as Jefferson gets accustomed to the "empty bustle" of Parisian and diplomatic life in what was then the most sophisticated city in the Western World.  Already a few months before settling in at the grander and larger Hôtel Langeac, he attended a more important auction of a noted collector's estate which had been formed in the early part of the 18th Century and reflected his generations taste for Italian masters and religious subjects assembled by the late Messr. Dupille de Saint-Séverin.  As another noted scholar on this subject, Harold E. Dickson wisely hastens to point out, in the Parisian art auction market on the eve of the French Revolution, the more reasonably priced secondary market that offered paintings collected by a prior generation of collector who favoured a style of paintings that were available to Jefferson and his contemporaries. This inventory of art collected earlier in the 18th Century by connoisseurs of a an older generation represented a slightly outmoded taste for this category of mostly religious themed works of art  that was not as fashionable to collect among  the Parisians of the 1780's. Therefore, this state of affairs provided Thomas Jefferson, who was not by any means an immensely wealthy man, a chance to afford art of quality and timeless beauty.  Below is a depiction of an auction at Paillet's Auction gallery, located in the Hôtel Boullion on the Rue Platrière, where the De Billy auction transpired. It was painted by De Machy and is in the collections of the Musée Carnavalet. It gives us a very good idea of the excitement Jefferson undoubtedly enjoyed when he participated in the De Billy sale and subsequently attended the sale of the collection of Messr. Dupille de Saint-Séverin  in February of 1785. 


Fortunately for us, a surviving catalog of this sale survives in French archives. And, in it is a marginal notation citing the 4 of the  paintings Jefferson acquired at the sale of Dupille de Saint-Séverin sale which went to "l'envoie de l'amerique". One of them is happily displayed in the main drawing room (known as the Parlour in Jefferson's day). It was believed to be after Simon Vouët and is recorded as Herodiade Bearing the Head of St. John in a Platter.  It was actually a copy after  the Italian Baroque
master  Guido Reni. It was numbered 248 in the catalog.


The other 3 paintings Jefferson acquired were also copies after noted Italian and Spanish masters. For instance, he also was the high bidder on catalog number 36 which was described as Saint Peter Weeping for His Offense which was actually after Guido Reni. The other acquisition from what was assuredly a very thrilling auction in which for Jefferson to take part was catalog number 215 described as  Democritus & Heraclitus called the laughing and weeping philosophers, and a copy of The Magdalene Penitent after the original by Jose de Ribera who was active in 17th Century Spain and Italy. The original is seen below. 


While on the matter of copies, it is very important to emphasize to a novice beginning to delve into this very interesting subject of great collectors before the more investment crazed 20th Century changed the demeanor and very purpose of collecting in some instances, that to Jefferson's American and European contemporaries, today's disdain for well executed copies after admired works of art by the great masters of the past did not exist. Some of the greatest Royal collectors of the 17th Century  such as Louis XIV of France  and Charles I of England did not hesitate to add a good copy to round out their collections when the original was simply not available in usually in another important Royal or noble collection.  Jonathan Richardson, whose writings it has been noted, influenced collecting taste for the 18th Century to a large extent and he stated unequivocally that a simulation of greatness was preferable to the originality of nonentities.. Consequently, affordable but fine copies were considered not only acceptable. They were truly desirable among discerning 18th Century collectors in Britain and Europe. 

Jefferson went on what was a true buying and collecting spree in Paris until he decided to return to America in late 1789. The source of all other purchases are not always known. In the superb exhibition catalog edited by  Senior Curator of Collections, Susan R. Stein, Ms. Stein shares valuable information about Jefferson's searching, acquisition and purchasing of fine art and cites his account books from which we learn he bought most of the old master paintings between November 1784 and tapers off about November of 1785. But that being noted, Ms. Stein is also correct in observing that the walls of  main drawing room of Monticello must have been as crowded as the walls of the exhibition of the biannual Salon of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture which we know Jefferson attended in 1787!  In her introductory essay, the reader learns that over 5 dozen of these old master paintings,  for which the prices varied, were not particularly costly. And though prices did vary, she explains the average price was 29 livres which is hard to convert into early 21st Century US Dollars or Euros. But suffice it to say it probably would not have been more than something one would pay today on an online auction from a lesser regional auction house selling on the internet. As he began to acquire art with more confidence, Jefferson both bought second hand copies at auction and shops offering them. And he ordered more from artists who specialized in painting copies of old masters to order. 18th Century France and Europe was well populated by working painters who were readily available for this purpose to the noblesse  and the haute bourgeoisie.   For instance, the Bass Museum in Miami Beach has this fine copy of The Adoration of the Magi after Peter Paul Rubens which was among works of art commissioned from skilled French copyists by Thomas Jefferson while living in Paris. It was loaned to Monticello in 1993 and temporarily exhibited there for an ambitious and memorable exhibition to commemorate Thomas  Jefferson's 250th birthday.  


The exhibition, entitled "The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson" was an admirable achievement that became a reality under the dynamic supervision and tireless efforts of the already mentioned Senior Curator of Collections Susan R. Stein. And the exhibition stimulated even more significant subsequent discoveries and permanent loans and acquisitions of original Jefferson art and artifacts  that can be seen 25 years later at Monticello which has never looked so splendid and close to what it was like when Jefferson was in residence. The catalog noted above that accompanied the exhibition is still easily available on eBay and other second hand book sellers online and worth obtaining. It is entitled The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello (same as the exhibition) and was published by Abrams in 1993.

Another copy after a widely admired old master that Jefferson acquired at this time was one after the Venetian Late Renaissance master Titian that depicted Danae . Titian painted a few versions of this subject. The original version is exhibited in Naples. This is the version in the collection of the Prado in Madrid seen below. It is impossible to know of what version (and they are not too strikingly different) was the basis of the copy Jefferson procured.


Worth noting is that the two above mentioned paintings - along with some others, were not cited in the Monticello inventory prepared by Jefferson sometime after 1809. That some (though a small minority)  of the paintings did not make it from the walls of The Hôtel Langeac to the walls of Monticello is clear. And the reasons for the discarding or loss of some of these works of art between 1790 when they were crated and shipped from Paris to Philadelphia may never be known. Perhaps some were given away to valued friends or sold to raise cash?  It is well known Jefferson was plagued with financial difficulties during much of his life.

Other acquisitions of commissioned copies of old masters represented Jefferson's appreciation of art as a didactic teaching tool that also inspired and had a lesson to impart. The notion of art for art's sake that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th Century would have been as incomprehensible to Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries as Marxist tenets!  As a result, additional orders along the line of old masters commissioned by the American envoy were for portraits of historical figures who all related to the early history of the North American story or portraits of philosophers  and savants who had contributed to Enlightenment thinking. 

Among these works was a portrait of the philosopher John Locke. Acquired in London with help from the young emerging American master John Trumbull who was a frequent house guest at the Hôtel Langeac and who was often helpful to Jefferson as art advisor, agent and all around errand man when Jefferson needed help with purchases from England.  With help from Trumbull the portrait arrived and was displayed at the Hôtel Langeac before being sent to America when Jefferson returned.  It is seen below and can still be enjoyed and viewed in the drawing room of Monticello. 


It was with the assistance of John Adams' son in law and secretary Williams Stephens Smith that, in 1787 that Jefferson was able to round out this gallery of old master portraits which he wanted to include images that could be seen when he returned with them to America of its early explorers and settlers.  The one below depicting a portrait of Sir Walter Raliegh who was the early settler in Jefferson's native Virginia was understandably a "must have" and also was part of this growing collection. Jefferson saw the original on which this copy was based in Birmingham during one if his visits to England while living in Paris. It is amusing to note that Jefferson always understood it was after an original by Hans Holbein. Of course it wasn't and couldn't have possibly been as that artist who worked at the Court of Henry VIII would not have possibly known Sir Walter!  It is seen below and is also on view at Monticello. 


Other portraits of America's early settlers sought and obtained by Jefferson in Italy with help of his Italian friend Philip Mazzei, who in turn had them commissioned on Jefferson's behalf from skilled copyists,  comprised a lot of portraits depicting Columbus, Vespucci, Magellan and Cortez.  However only two of these portraits are known to exist and can be seen at Monticello. They were copied after originals in the Grand Ducal Collections in Florence. The copyist was documented as being Giuseppi Calendi. These copies were executed in the autumn of 1788. Jefferson gave these acquisitions importance citing it was "of some public concern that our country should not be without the portraits of its first early discoverers".  The Cristobal Colon is seen below. 


Below, also copied to order in Florence was this profile painted portrait of Americus Vespucius that has happily returned to Monticello. 


This fascinating and revealing pen and ink drawing in the department of drawings and prints of the Uffizi in Florence is by an unidentified artist who seems to have drawn it on the spot. It has an unquestionably spontaneous demeanor. It depicts - from left to right- (obviously more evolved and increasingly self assured with regard to artistic taste)  Thomas Jefferson in conversation with an unidentified gentleman, John Adams, another unidentified personage, the premier painter of Paris in the 1780's Jacques Louis David, Philip Mazzei, and Jefferson's secretary William Short. The assembled gentlemen are seated in front of an antique bust of Brutus and clearly having a fine time! It so many ways, it's a snap shot of a moment of sheer delight that Jefferson's French sojourn with it's additional outings to some other places in England, Germany and part of Italy afforded him. He would never leave America again after his return there in 1789.   


In the autumn of 1789, just as the French Revolution was emphatically ratcheting up, Jefferson returned to America with his two daughters. One had died in Virginia. The other daughter, Polly eventually joined Jefferson and the oldest daughter Martha. Upon returning to the new capital of the time to meet with President Washington, Jefferson was offered the position of our first Secretary of State and accepted his new mission which necessitated him to give orders to his Paris secretary and chargé des affaires, William Short, to oversee the packing and shipping of nearly everything to America. After years of adorning the walls of temporary residences in New York and later Philadelphia, the art collection eventually settled with Jefferson where it remained until being largely dispersed after his death in 1826. 

Thanks to various accounts from among legions of visitors and an inventory written in Jefferson's own hand, we can get an idea of the paintings that hung in the various reception rooms where Jefferson hosted and entertained. 

For all practical purposes, the  Entrance Hall was a small museum along the lines of a 17th or 18th Century gentleman's cabinet of curiosities in which works of European painters were exhibited cheek by jowl with ethic artifacts and other objects. Below are two views of the room that represented the initial impression of Monticello to visitors. 



On this wall seen above, were two old master paintings acquired in France and represented Jesus In The Praetorium. Jefferson believed it to be an original by "Malbodius" which is another identity for the for the Northern European Renaissance master Jan Gossaet (1478 - 1533/6) . In his inventory Jefferson often notes the exact passage from Scripture the artist has portrayed. In this instance it's Mark 15./16.-20. It is seen close up below.


Along side it hung this depiction of Saint Jerome in Meditation after an original by The Dutch master of German background, Hendrick Gotzius (1558-1617)


While these are fortunately returned "home" to Monticello, Jefferson's inventory reveals how powerfully laden with works of art by old masters covered the walls of his "museum".  For example, it was also in this room that the Ecce Homo after Guido Reni was exhibited.  Also proudly exhibited here was a copy, also after Guido Reni of David with The Head of Goliath. The impression of two large paintings depicting decapitated heads made on visitors to Monticello has not been recorded. But one can only imagine!  This is an image I photographed years ago in the Louvre of the original.


The Jefferson written inventory also informs the reader visitors also could not fail to see this copy of Jesus Driving The Money Changers Out of the Temple after Jean Valentin de Boulogne.  The original is seen below.


Another surprise to learn is that Jefferson also displayed a copy after Leonardo's sexy Saint John The Baptist! The original, seen below is currently in the Louvre. It was in the legendary collection of both Francois I and later Charles I of England at various times!


The cream of the collection of European masters seems to have been displayed in the adjacent drawing room which was the nucleus of the household's social life. It was always full of visiting visiting neighbors and house guests among whom Jefferson's family members were inevitably to be found.  These are some views of the room as now admirable restored in recent years.  The first two are more recent and reflect the most up to date arrangements of art on the walls as well as furniture arrangements as new discoveries are made about the placement and position of various things in the house comes to light. The last image is from the 1993 exhibition mentioned earlier. It is shared to convey and idea of the room looking at the fireplace.  Some changes in the placement since then are in evidence.




As per Jefferson's inventory, the Herodiade Bearing the Head of St. John in a Platter after Guido Reni was displayed prominently here in the upper tier. Why oblige visitors to be subjected to TWO decapitated heads in one room? Let's space them apart in different rooms shall we?  But there were also some quite honestly ravishing Italian paintings here along side the Herodiade and the aforementioned copies of the philosophers and explorers seen above.

The above cited works in the drawing room were arrayed in the upper tier. In the middle tier was included, a copy of The Transfiguration after Rafael Santi. The original is seen below to represent Jefferson's now unaccounted copy.


Along the middle tier was also displayed a copy of The Crusifixion  Jefferson believed to be an original by Gerard Seghers (whose name  he spelled Segers in his list), He notes it as depicting Luke 23.44-45. In lieu of the lost copy Jefferson owned, we see a depiction that was plausibly like Jefferson's own by Seghers below.


The middle tier of the drawing room also displayed two copies after the late 17th Century - earl;y 18th Century French Court artist Antoine Coypel. These copies depicted Susanna and The Elders and jephtha Leading His Daughter to Be Sacrificed which Jefferson notes as based on Judges.11. Both works of the same subject by Coypel seen below represent Jefferson's lost works.



The lower tier reserved for smaller "cabinet" pictures seen more easily and enjoyed up close included two old masters that both depicted variations on the subject of the descent of Christ from the cross.  The first seen below is listed in the inventory as an original by Francis Floris who was a very accomplished Flemish School painter of the second rank active principally in Antwerp (1516 - 1570).

Fortunately it can still be seen in the same room in Monticello today!


However, the other lost copy of a painted depiction of the same subject on copper once was seen in the same tier of the drawing room. Jefferson's inventory described it as being after Van Dyke and painted by Dispenbec.  See below for an idea by the giant among Flemish 17th Century masters who was second only to Peter Paul Rubens. .


The other reception area in which Jefferson displayed his collection of old master paintings was the dining room. Some views of the room as it is seen currently are below.






Among Jefferson's prized copies of old masters was one of the iconic Grande Sainte Famille de Francois I  depicting the Holy Family after Rafael Santi. it is clearly visible in the images above and the copy is still fortunately at Monticello. As implied by the designation just noted, it was the great trophy of the collection of the larger than life Valois King of France, Francois I who took great pride in owning it.  It is seen below. The original is still in France and is exhibited in the Louvre.


Another copy of another Italian master is seen just above the moulded arch leading to the Tea Room. It is after Domenichino and depicts The Ascension of Saint Paul into Heaven. Jefferson proudly notes that "the original is in the collection of the King of France".


Unlike the two paintings shared above, another important old master painting once displayed in the upper tier along with these was a copy after Peter Paul Rubens depicting Diogenese in The Market of Athens.  Below is an original oil sketch for the finished oeuvre by Rubens to get an idea of what it must have been like.


Another old master painting depicting an episode from the life of Christ was a canvas after Anthony Van Dyke depicting the crusifixion of which the original on which Jefferson's lost copy was based.


Thanks to digital technology and a bit of investigation, it's possible to significantly flesh out an imagined reassembled presentation of Jefferson's once highly admired and loved collection of old master paintings into the acquisition of which he put such obvious joie de vivre and enthusiasm after years of waiting for a chance to be exposed to it as only a demanding and arduous sea voyage across the Atlantic would allow.  It is nothing less than tragic that the acute and desperate state of his financial affairs at the end of his life that occasioned the dispersal of the collection by sale at auction following his death resulted in the loss of one of the infant republic's early collections of paintings by European old masters. But thanks to the relentless ongoing efforts of the Monticello curatorial department, many have returned to grace the walls with their beauty that transcends time and changing fashions.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

AN ART HISTORIAN'S LONG RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LONG FORGOTTEN GEORGIAN PERIOD ENGLISH PORTRAITIST RICHARD LIVESAY AND THE MYSTERY OF "THE PELHAM CHILDREN"

During my undergraduate years at University of Miami I became quite taken by an enigmatic portrait that was clearly from the English School and dated from the late 18th Century. It depicted 3 youngsters picking and gathering apples off a tree in the sort of  landscape one often espies in the background of similar outdoor portraits by the likes of artists like Thomas Gainsborough. The portrait has been displayed prominently since the early 20th Century in the former house of the American industrialist James Deering. This magical and ravishing house was named Vizcaya. It is located on the water facing Biscayne Bay in Miami, Florida. And some years after James Deering's death in 1925, his family sold it to Miami Dade County which has operated it as a historic house museum since the mid 1950's. Whoever enjoys historic houses, grand interiors, good taste, fine living, historic period furniture and decorative arts, is missing an exhilarating experience if they are in Miami and don't make it a point to visit this house that has charmed and won over the most discerning of European curators and experts in the decorative arts.  Appropriately, this portrait from the age of George III, Jane Austen, and Sarah Siddons, is displayed to good effect and plays a significant role in setting the tone for Vizcaya's Adam Library, a room that pays tribute to the style of the legendary late 18th Century brother architects from Scotland who defined British Neoclassicism, Robert and James Adam. The library is seen below. In the first view of the room the painting under discussion here is in evidence. The next image is a view of the opposite wall to give you a feeling for the room in which it is displayed.  Both are images scanned from Vizcaya postcards sold in the gift shop in the 1980's.





My relationship with the painting and the months of investigation about the artist who executed it was an early research project that I admit was very exciting at the time when I was an enthusiastic undergraduate student of art history and thrilled with a chance to crack such a mystery and possibly solve it.  To any younger readers, I hasten to remind you all this research was conducted without the advantages of the internet. I really had to hit the books and correspond by letter with English and American scholars and curators - some of whom are legends in the world of art history and now dead such as the late Sir Ellis Waterhouse.  The painting depicting the children under the apple tree is seen below in this recent photo I took in 2014 during a visit to the museum.




Details and additional view are also seen below that I took myself during one of my numerous visits.










Today, the identity of both the artist and the young boys with their sister is well known. When I first undertook to establish the identity of the artist in 1980, the museum curatorial staff had continued to officially attribute the painting to the American master John Singleton Copley, though by that time also unofficially admitting this attribution was questionable. John Singleton Copley emigrated from his native Boston on the eve of the American War of Independence to study the masters of the past, learn their techniques and improve his artistic work. As everyone knows, he settled with his family in London where he spent the rest of his life and career and became an painter of some prominence. He was even awarded 2 royal commissions.  However by 1980, this attribution was seriously in doubt. Professor Jules David Prown of Yale University had published his great definitive 2 volume book with catalog raisonée about Copley in the late 1960's he had dismissed this portrait, misleadingly entitled "The Pelham Children" as a painting by a Copley contemporary active in England in the 1780's. Professor Prown had no doubt this attribution to Copley was simply not sustainable.  When James Deering acquired the painting via his artistic adviser, the mercurial and brilliant Paul Chalfin, the gallery from which it was acquired sold it to him as "The Pelham Children" by John Singleton Copley in 1916. By the way, this New York based gallery had the rather evocative name of The Louis XIV Shop. It has clearly long ceased to operate. At the time of acquisition, to settle Mr. Deering's possible questions as to whether this had been a sound purchase of an authentic Copley, Mr. Chalfin assured his patron that the papers of authenticity furnished by The Louis XIV Shop were quite satisfactory, according to letters in the museum's archives. The papers of authenticity have never been found at Vizcaya to date however.

The composition of the Vizcaya portrait is very possibly inspired by an entry that Thomas Gainsborough, among the major portrait painter of the 1780's, submitted to the Royal Academy's Exhibition of 1787. This is entitled. The Marsham Children and seen below. My thanks to former Vizcaya Curator of Collections, Ms. Laurie Ossman, for bringing this possible compositional source to my attention.




The painter of Vizcaya's portrait was clearly a competent artist. Though admittedly he was not an inspired master of the level of a Gainsborough, a Copley, a Sir Joshua Reynolds or even a Benjamin West, that other admirable American painter who also relocated - even before Copley - to London where he was a resounding success as both a portraitist and (more importantly at the time) a history painter who reached the apex of his career by succeeding Sir Joshua Reynolds as president of the Royal Academy. Not bad for a Quaker youth with no formal training from Philadelphia!  In short, this painting on view in Vizcaya was unquestionably a good representative work of art of the time. However it was obvious it was by the hand of a good artist of the second rank. But what artist? There was no apparent signature. In 1980, at age 20, and full of boundless enthusiasm to decipher this mystery, my objective was to apply art historical research and use my comparative observation of the work of other portrait painters of Georgian Britain to try and reach a conclusion that might establish a plausible attribution...

Then suddenly in 1981, there was an administrative decision to undertake a serious and extensive restoration of the Adam Library on many levels. The portrait was removed from the wall for the first time after having been placed there in the 1910's.  A cleaning and restoration of the canvas was entrusted to Vizcaya's conservator of the time, a swarthy and talented Roman named Emilio Cianfoni. Mr. Cianfoni began his restoration and within weeks something very exciting revealed itself as he began to remove darkened varnish in the lower are of the painting depicting the base of the tree with rocks and grass. He kindly rang me up immediately as he came to the realization that some later over painting he had just removed that was not original to the painting revealed a hidden original signature of the original artist whose name was Richard Livesay with the date of 1787!

It was obvious that the over painted area depicting grass, ground and rocks was a deliberate effort on behalf of an unscrupulous dealer to "upgrade" the painting - now unsigned due to an additional painting - by attributing it to Copley. Investigation put together a plausible sequence of events.  As it turns out, this painting sold as a signed work by Richard Livesay in London, in 1899. That year, at a sale at Christie's in London held on 13 May, this painting was sold as Lot # 99 and described as

"R, Livesay, 1787
Portraits of Anne, Edward and Charles, Children of the Right Hon. Edward Golding, in a landscape climbing a tree and gathering apples, 92 in by 57 in."

We also learn from Christie's archives that the portrait was sold to a buyer named Parsons in the amount of £ 183,15.0.  It would not be amiss to theorize that this portrait would command considerably less in the early 21st Century auction market! 

Also worth nothing was the fact that this sale was also accompanied by the sale of a pendant portrait of the children's mother, Anne who was the wife of Edward Golding. It was offered as Lot # 100 and it sold for £294,0.0 to a buyer named Fischoff. The present whereabouts of this painting is lamentably unknown! 

 Edward Golding was a commissioner of the Treasury and served from November 1803 to May of 1804. He also served as Commissioner of the Board of Control under Lord Lewisham from May of 1801 to July of 1802 and under Lord Castlereagh from July of 1802 until May of 1804. 

This discovery yielded in Christie's archives allows us to learn that after the painting was sold at auction correctly identified in 1899, there followed a nearly 16 year long window of time during which it was deliberately doctored, the signature covered, changed hands, and the painting was almost certainly "upgraded" by attribution to the more important artist John Singleton Copley, to whom The Louis XIV Shop had attributed it.  At the time Paul Chalfin arranged to acquire the painting on behalf of James Deering, the gallery could cite support for it in a scholarly publication published the year before in 1915 about the work of Copley by F. W. Bayley. The book cited the painting as being a portrait of the Pelham Children by the American master.  And an American Art Association auction catalog from 26 - 27 February 1903 could also be cited by the gallery selling this painting to Chalfin on Deering's behalf. In this auction catalog,  the same painting is illustrated and offered as "The Pelham Children" by John Singleton Copley! 

With the identity of the artist and the sitter established, thank to Mr. Cianfoni's superb restoration, I began to roll up my sleeves and research this. I was 21, still in undergraduate school, full of enthusiasm and, looking back on this experience today, am amazed I dug up what I did in a world that had yet to ever imagine the internet!  I lived in the University or Miami library and availed myself of interlibrary loan assistance.  I began a hectic correspondence with curators, scholars and even entered into correspondence with an owner or two of paintings by Richard Livesay. I even had occasion to communicate by letter with the Royal household which was most helpful and pleased to shed light on my inquiries. The most memorable of them was a very cordial ongoing correspondence  with the late Victor Montagu who was formerly the Earl of Sandwich and who had volunteered to renounce his earldom to pursue a career in the House of Commons. He was delightful and most helpful. 

The question: Who was Richard Livesay whose self portrait we see below? 



According to Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Livesay was born in the middle of the 18th Century. He is first cited as having been a lodger of William Hogarth's widow in Leicester Fields.  He later became a pupil of the legendary Benjamin West.  As West was on very good terms with King George III, it's possible (though not certain) that he may have had some influence in procuring for Livesay a position as drawing master to the King's children. George III also commissioned this work from him depicting the reception of his future daughter in law, Frederica, Princess Royal of Prussia, to his son the Duke of York seen below. It is in the Royal Collection.




While in Windsor, Livesay made quite a niche for himself as a painter of small - mostly bust length - portraits of students at Eton. One is seen below represents these intimate, evocative, but hardly consummate works of George III period portraiture. It depicts the young Francis Gervais. 




 Livesay was also engaged to paint portraits of Etonians dressed in a picturesque costume for a very colourful and archaic festival held at Eton until the middle of the reign of Queen Victoria known as Montem. Montem is believed to have been initially held in 1581. It was held annually. But by Livesay's time of residence in Eton, it had become the custom to hold it less often and it was held very 3 years. Part of this festival's features was a procession to Salt Hill along which route, young Etonians acted as "servitors" or "runners" and accompanied by "salt-bearers" in whimsical costumes. It was in the costume of a salt bearer that the young George Montagu, afterward 5th Earl of Sandwich, posed for Livesay in 1790.  We see him decked out in his salt-bearer's costume with a plumed hat, white coat and stockings and a pink kilt. In the background, is Eton College Chapel. It is signed and dated clearly "R. Livesay, 1790". We see it below. It is still in the possession of the current Earl of Sandwich.





The portrait of George Montagu is Livesay at his best. His style was clearly influenced by the painterly style of Gainsborough and sense of theatre  of Sir Joshua Reynolds on some occasions to an extent. It was very representative of the period, infused with some charm, but not greatness. 

Livesay painted some other notable subjects like this full length portrait of James Caulfield, the Earl of Charlement. It can be seen in the National Gallery, London. It is seen below. We see the influence of Reynolds with the column and fluttering red drapery to create what the time believed to be essential in the execution of a painting of a highly socially positioned patron. 




Livesay eventually relocated to Portsea where he took up another appointment as drawing master to the Royal Naval College.  It was while there he painted other portraits of naval officers such as this one seen below of George Murray. 




Another notable group portrait from these years is this one depicting Captain Richard Grindall (1750-1820) and his family. It is seen below and is in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, UK. I hasten to point out that in this well executed group family portrait, Livesay has demonstrated an admirable handling of painting the very busy and colourful pattern of the carpet.




However while there, Livesay seems to have had a hand in more ambitious panoramic scenes depicting naval reviews such as this one depicting one such event in which the Worcester Regiment was reviewed by Major-General Whitelocke. It is seen below. 



In 1800, he was commissioned by the Marquis of Salisbury to undertake the painting recording an occasion when George III came to visit Hatfield House, his country seat,  to take part in a military review of which Livesay has left posterity this delightful record. It is seen below and in still at Hatfield House in England.




One thing worth noting about the portrait of the Golding Children is that it is among the few portraits by Richard Livesay that seem to have been executed on the scale of life. Most of his portraits are small and quite intimate in scale. This one below is a more typical example. It is a portrait of the 21 year old Lord Morpeth. It is dated 1794 and it is currently being offered for sale in November of 2016 when this blog was published by an eBay seller with a provenance from Lady Reading, followed by the Miles Wynn Cato Gallery and measures only 9.50 x 8.25 inches. 






Richard Livesay was not a giant of his time. But he did move in very high artistic circles and enjoyed the patronage of the most influential and powerful men of his country and age. To be under the patronage of the King himself was certainly something of which this little known master of the second rank should have been justifiably proud.  Today, Livesay has been nearly forgotten. His portraits fetch modest sums at auction compared to works by Reynolds, Romney, Gainsborough and other portraitists of that circle in the Royal Academy of the day. However he does deserve his day and a hearing. I hope I've been able to accord him the recognition and respect he merits for having very charmingly recorded the gentlemen and ladies of the age of Jane Austen!