Portrait Miniature of George Washington
- Sold for:
- American Furniture & Decorative Arts - 2444
- Date / Time :
- February 15, 2009 11:00AM
Portrait Miniature of George Washington, Robert Field (American, born in England, c. 1769-1819), signed and dated "RF 1801" l.r. Watercolor on ivory, c. 1801, oval bust-length portrait portraying Washington in his General's uniform, 2 3/4 x 2 1/4 in., encased in an oval gilt-brass locket, the reverse with a plaited lock of George Washington's hair overlaid with "GW" cipher in gilt foil in a small oval glass compartment, further housed in a hinged oval red leather case. Condition: Very good.
Note: Robert Field, a portrait painter, miniature painter, and engraver enjoyed success in his time, but fell into relative obscurity following his early death in 1819, according to Field scholar Harry Piers. Born in England in 1769, Field spent time in Nova Scotia and throughout the American Northeast, painting important local and national figures: judges, generals, merchants, and politicians. He painted hundreds of portraits, and was one of the most highly sought after American miniaturists of his time. It is no wonder then, that in 1800 Martha Washington herself commissioned Field to paint a group of miniatures as mementoes for friends and family, meant to commemorate the revered General and President on the one-year anniversary of his death.
As Piers tells us, two groups of miniatures of George Washington were produced by Field at Martha's request in late 1800, the first group showing him in civilian dress, the second as general in full uniform. While the first group is comprised of at least six distinct examples given to friends and confidants, the second, as far as is known, consists of only two (including the present lot), which went to the two eldest daughters of Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart and her second husband David Stuart. Eleanor was the widow of Martha Washington's only son from her first marriage, to John Parke Custis. The present lot has since been passed through the family.
One of Field's two miniatures of General George Washington was offered in Skinner sale #2431, on November 2, 2008, as lot 300, and sold to Yale University Art Gallery. That lot is identical in size and composition, and nearly identical in presentation to the present lot, and has similar provenance. The two miniatures descended in the same family, from their original owners to two brothers. This is the last Robert Field miniature showing Washington in uniform in private hands.
An 1882 mention exists that puts Robert Field at Mount Vernon in 1798, and though the dated miniatures are all inscribed either 1800 or 1801, the chance exists, according to that author, that the appearance of Washington in the present lot is based at least in part on a life study by Field himself ("Pictures of Washington: Some Original Portraits of Our First President," New York Times, March 19, 1882). However, Piers thinks it is more likely that, for his miniatures of Washington, Field used existing originals to create a composite portrait: "one of the [Gilbert] Stuart paintings of 1795 in the Vaughan type, for the portraits in civilian dress; and for those in uniform, Field's miniature rendering of the same original was the basis for the head, while one of Walter Robertson's miniatures of 1794…was the guide for the coat and the composition as a whole" (Piers, p. 158). By contemporary accounts, the Field miniatures were hailed as more "agreeable" likenesses than the Vaughan-type Stuarts, "by improving the expression, thus freeing it from the original's fault - an unnecessarily severe countenance." (Piers, p. 160) And regarding the overall nature of the present lot, in Piers's opinion, "the uniform, clouded background, and general composition are improved renderings of one of the miniatures by Walter Robinson" (Piers, p. 166).
Field framed and presented his miniatures relatively consistently. They are "tastefully mounted in plain, narrow, oval gold cases…with an immovable suspension ring… and the back of the case often contains a plaited…lock of the sitter's hair, sometimes ornamented with… a gold monogram" (Piers, 146).
Provenance: The present lot was presented by Martha Washington to Ann Calvert Stuart, (also known as Nancy) the eldest of the daughters of David and Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart (those two also being step-granddaughters of Martha Washington). Ann, having no children from her marriage to William Robinson, gave the miniature to Rosalie Eugenia Stuart Webster, her sister. Rosalie willed the miniature to her younger son Calvert Stuart Webster. Calvert died unmarried and the miniature subsequently went to his niece Rebecca Lynn Webster, then to Rebecca's niece Rosalie Stuart Magruder, and finally to Rosalie's nephew Calvert.
Line of Descent:
Ann Calvert Stuart, in 1801.
Rosalie Eugenia Stuart Webster.
Calvert Stuart Webster.
Rebecca Lynn Webster.
Rosalie Stuart Magruder, after 1929.
Calvert, her nephew, after 1971.
Literature: Piers, Harry, Robert Field: Portrait Painter in Oils, Miniature and Water-Colours and Engraver, New York, 1927, discusses this lot, which is illustrated adjacent to p. 162 as catalogue No. XC, called by Piers the "Webster Example."
Note: The 'End Notes' article titled "An Icon for Yale," by Eleanor H. Gustafson, on p. 192 of the January 2009 issue of The Magazine Antiques, discusses the sister miniature sold to Yale by Skinner in November 2008.
Two small yellowish discolorations in background sky right of George''s right facing collar, gold foil cipher is askew on the reverse hair compartment.