18th century, american art history, art history, auctions, Clothing, Costume, history, interpretation, paintings, Robert Feke, Sotheby's
It’s auction season again, the best one of all: the major Americana sales and the Winter Antiques Show in New York. I won’t be at any of the exhibitions or sales, which is just as well for me; my friends know the twitchy “must-touch” finger motion that means I need to leave my wallet and checkbook in wiser, saner hands.
Still, even if we can’t buy, we can learn. This time around, I was delighted by the juxtaposition of two pre-1750 paintings in the Sotheby’s sales.
First, the ever-delightful Robert Feke’s portrait of Mrs Tench Francis.
Francis. Shippen. Willing. This thing is DEEP in the history of Philadelphia, and by my fave 18th century RI painter.
But does she Remind you of anyone? Like a Smibert, maybe? Or perhaps it’s a Copley?
It was a THING, that blue silk gown business with a red silk wrapper. Better yet? This one:
What I love about the J. Cooper is how crude it is: that painting looks more like a woolwork picture than a painting. But that vernacular adaptation tells us how prevalent this portrait style was, and how desirable.
In the exhibit catalog to the 1995(?) Met exhibit “JS Copley in America” was an essay “Accounting for Copley” by Paul Staiti, professor of art history at Mt Holyoke. In it he discussed Copley’s blatant use of English art as templates for his own portrait painting:
“Copley acquired mezzotints as models from which he and his sitters could begin to fashion the spaces they might inhabit, the objects they wished to possess, and most importantly, the attitudes they wanted to strike”.
Not only were early 18th c American artists still in the copybook phase, American elites were still uncertain how to define and represent themselves, so they gravitated towards portraiture that placed them, at least visually, solidly in the ranks of the elites of the mother country.
This blue gown and red drape “thing” is almost certainly from some portrait by Kneller, if not this one then another one darned similar.
We are all a bunch of wannabees.
I’ve read the articles on Copley, and know that, at least in his case, the pose and dress may also be taken from a print of Princess Anne http://bit.ly/1Sa9Xrh, 1683-1687. It’s curious how long the pose remains popular, and interesting how painters and sitters needed to use those earlier models (symbols) to signal their own places. As flippant as it is to call it the “red and blue thing,” by the mid-18th century, the pose and styling have devolved until they seem more meme than meaning– at least in the case of J. Cooper’s work. Imitation may be flattery, but repetition erodes meaning. https://www.pinterest.com/kittycalash/blue-18th-century/
And yes, we are all a bunch of wannabes.
That J Cooper painting made me laugh.