Skinner Auctions
Skinner AuctionsBoston MA
March 3, 2013 10:00 AMCalender

Ammi Phillips (American, 1788-1865) Double Portrait of the Ten Broeck Twins, Jacob Wessel Ten Broeck (1823-1896) and William Henry Ten

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Auction: American Furniture & Decorative Arts - 2640BLocation: BostonDate / Time: March 03, 2013 10:00AM


Ammi Phillips (American, 1788-1865)

Double Portrait of the Ten Broeck Twins, Jacob Wessel Ten Broeck (1823-1896) and William Henry Ten Broeck (1823-1888),Aged 10 Years, Seated with a Bowl of Fruit, Clairmont, Columbia County, New York, 1834. Unsigned, the names and ages of the sitters and the date of the painting inscribed in Ammi Phillips's hand on the back of the canvas. Oil on canvas, 30 1/4 x 50 1/4 in., in a period painted wood frame with foliate gesso applications on the corners. Condition: Relined, very minor retouch.

Exhibitions: Ammi Phillips in Columbia County, the Columbia County Historical Society, Kinderhook, New York, August 15 to September 30, 1975, illustrated in the exhibition catalog on the cover and on p. 36, and discussed on p. 33; American Folk Painters of Three Centuries, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, February 26 to May 13, 1980, the portrait illustrated in the exhibition catalog/reference book with the same title, p. 144; Revisiting Ammi Phillips: Fifty Years of American Portraiture, Museum of American Folk Art, New York, February 5, 1984 to December 1994, illustrated in the exhibition catalog p. 46, and discussed pp. 55-6.

Note: Shrouded in mystery for many years, Ammi Phillips' portraits have been eagerly studied by scholars and avidly collected both by institutions and individuals. His work has consistently been recognized as the most important among nineteenth century American folk art portraits and has held the interest of the art world for decades.

Phillips' output began to emerge in the early twentieth century first as the work of as many as three separate artists, A. Phillips, the Border Limner, and the Kent Limner. Through careful work from scholars over many years, Phillips' life story and oeuvre began to emerge, and it became clear that the three artists were actually a single painter whose skill developed over a period of decades. Moving through communities and styles, Ammi Phillips was an extremely adaptable and successful portrait painter whose work continues to beguile and fascinate folk art enthusiasts today.

During his fifty year career, Phillips lived in a handful of different towns, counties, and even states, all centering around Columbia County, New York. Though he moved with greater frequency than his neighbors, he put down remarkably deep roots for a so-called itinerant artist. In fact, he seems to have made a fairly good living from his work, which was exclusively portrait painting by commission. Observing his success, artist John Vanderlyn commended Phillips' career to his nephew, advising him that seeking a similar career would provide a solid path toward material stability and good social standing. Vanderlyn pointed out in a letter to his nephew that country portrait painters like Phillips could "gain more money than you could by any mechanical business," and indeed, more than Vanderlyn himself earned during periods in which the academic painter had trouble obtaining patronage for his more complex and costly works. Wherever Phillips moved, he had sufficient means to buy and sell property and was received as a solid member of each community in which he lived and worked.

Along with his willingness to undertake life in a new place, Phillips also proved highly adaptable in his work. Moving through periods of formulaic portraits and experimental compositions, the artist settled into a particularly confident and spare style by the time he painted several members of the Ten Broeck family in the early 1830s. Many scholars have observed the confidence and control that distinguish work from Phillips' Kent period (so named for his move to Kent, Connecticut),including his portrait of the Ten Broeck twins and a contemporaneous portrait of an unknown child in a pink dress, which appears as the next lot in this sale. In contrast to his earliest portraits, which are almost dreamlike in their rendering and detail, these works display a great solidity of shape and color. There is drama in the dark backgrounds that Phillips chose, backgrounds which supplanted more elaborate settings used by his contemporaries and drew strong, immediate focus to sitters' faces.

In the Ten Broeck twins' portrait, the viewer's eye runs first to the boys' faces, framed by bright white collars that contrast starkly with the black background and the boys' dark brown jackets. The pink of their cheeks echoes the blush of the peaches that sit in a bowl between the two boys and in one twin's hand. A reference to the orchard in Clermont, New York, where the boys grew up, the peaches and pears that sit in a white bowl on a dark table provide a secondary point of focus that allows Phillips to negotiate the negative space between his two sitters. That the boys are identical twins is obvious; however, the artist shows his great skill in subtly differentiating their faces. As the viewer looks from one to the other, it becomes evident that Phillips took no shortcuts in rendering his two subjects in a precise and lifelike manner. Double portraits in Phillips' hand are very rare, and his portrait of the Ten Broeck twins distinguishes itself as one of the most memorable and stunning of his output.

Estimate $300,000-500,000

Retouch to a 1/2 in. dia. spot on the bridge of the nose of the boy on the left, few minor spots around his left-facing hand and to a 3 in. dia. area on his kneee area, a few other small backgound spots and also areas around the perimeter from previous frame rub.

The absence of a condition statement does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition or completely free from wear and tear, imperfections or the effects of aging. Condition requests can be obtained via email (lot inquiry button) or by telephone to the appropriate gallery location (Boston/617.350.5400 or Marlborough/508.970.3000). Any condition statement given, as a courtesy to a client, is only an opinion and should not be treated as a statement of fact. Skinner Inc. shall have no responsibility for any error or omission.


A. Phillips, William Henry Ten Broeck, Columbia, gesso applications, Columbia County Historical Society, Kinderhook, Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of American Folk Art, single painter, adaptable and successful portrait painter, John Vanderlyn, so-called itinerant artist, academic painter, Kent, Connecticut, Clermont