Page images


Obituary notice of Mr. Allston.

and Washington, in the practice of his profession, till about the year 1805, when he removed to Boston, where he remained to the time of his death. During the last ten years of his

life he had to struggle with many infirmities; yet such was the vigour of his mind, that it seemed to triumph over the decays of nature, and to give to some of his last productions all the truth and splendour of his prime.

Gilbert Stuart was not only one of the first painters of his time, but must have been admitted by all who had an opportunity of knowing him, to have been, even out of his art, an extraordinary man; one who would have found distinction easy in any other profession or walk of life. His mind was of a strong and original cast, his perceptions as clear as they were just, and in the power of illustration he has rarely been equalled. On almost every subject, more especially on such as were connected with his art, his conversation was marked by wisdom and knowledge; while the uncommon precision and elegance of his language seemed ever to receive an additional grace from his manner, which was that of a well bred gentleman.

The narrations and anecdotes with which his knowledge of men and of the world had stored his memory, and which he often gave with great beauty and dramatic effect, were not unfrequently employed by Mr. Stuart in a way, and with an address peculiar to himself. From this store it was his custom to draw largely while occupied with his sitters-apparently for their amusement; but his object was rather, by thus banishing all restraint, to call forth if possible some involuntary traits of the natural character. But these glimpses of character, mixed as they are in all men with so much that belongs to their age and associates, would have been of little use to an ordinary observer; for the faculty of distinguishing between the accidental and the permanent, in other words, between the conventional expression which arises from manners, and that more subtle indication of the individual mind, is indeed no common one: and by no one with whom we are acquainted, was this faculty possessed in so remarkable a degree. It was this which enabled him to animate his canvas-not with the appearance of mere general life-but with that peculiar, distinctive life which separates the humblest individual from his kind. He seemed to dive into the thoughts of men-for they were made to rise, and to speak on the surface. Were other evidences wanting, this talent alone were sufficient to establish his claims as a man of genius; since it is the privilege of genius alone to measure at once the highest and the lowest.

[blocks in formation]

In his happier efforts no one ever surpassed him in embodying (if we may so speak) these transient apparitions of the soul. Of this not the least admirable instance is his portrait (painted within the last four years) of the late President Adams; whose then bodily tenement seemed rather to present the image of some dilapidated castle, than that of the habitation of the "unbroken mind:" but not such is the picture; called forth as from its crumbling recesses, the living tenant is there still ennobling the ruin, and upholding it, as it were by the strength of his own life. In this venerable ruin will the unbending patriot and the gifted artist speak to posterity of the first glorious century of our Republic.

In a word, Gilbert Stuart was, in its widest sense, a philosopher in his art; he thoroughly understood its principles; as his works bear witness-whether as to the harmony of colours, or of lines, or of light and shadow-showing that exquisite sense of a whole, which only a man of genius can realize and embody.

We cannot close this brief notice without a passing record of his generous bearing towards his professional brethren. He never suffered the manliness of his nature to darken with the least shadow of jealousy, but where praise was due, he gave it freely, and gave too with a grace which showed that, loving excellence for its own sake, he had a pleasure in praising. To the younger artists he was uniformly kind and indulgent, and most liberal of his advice; which no one ever properly asked but he received, and in a manner no less courteous than impressive. The unbroken kindness and friendship with which he honoured the writer of this imperfect sketch will never be forgotten.

In the world of art, Mr. Stuart has left a void that will not soon be filled. And well may his country say, "a great man has passed from amongst us:" but Gilbert Stuart has bequeathed her what is paramount to power-since no power can command it-the rich inheritance of his fame.


In the year 1775 Mr. Earle painted portraits in Connecticut. I remember seeing two full-lengths of the Rev. Timothy Dwight and his wife, painted in 1777, as Earle thought, in the manner of Copley. They showed some talent, but the shadows were black as charcoal or ink. In the year 1775, Earle, as one of the governor's guard of militia, was marched to Cambridge, and soon afterwards to Lexington, where he made drawings of the scenery, and subsequently composed the first historical pictures, perhaps, ever attempted


History of miniature-painting.

in America, which were engraved by his companion, in arms, Mr. Amos Doolittle. Mr. Earle studied under the direction of Mr. West, immediately after the independence of his country was established, and returned home in 1786. He painted many portraits in New-York, and more in Connecticut. The time of his death is unknown to us. He had considerable merit-a breadth of light and shadow-facility of handling, and truth in likeness, but he prevented improvement and destroyed himself by habitual intemperance.


In a letter from General Washington to Col. Jos. Reed, he thanks him for a picture sent by him to Mrs. Washington, and meant as a portrait of the general, which was painted by a Mr. Campbell, who Washington says he never saw. The letter is dated from Cambridge, in 1776, the writer says the painter has made a very formidable figure of the Commander in chief."


History of miniature-painting-John Ramage-James Peale-W. WilliamsMather Brown-Thomas Spence Duché-Bishop Seabury's portrait-Robert Fulton-Thomas Coram.

This department of art, from its reduced scale, and consequent minuteness, does not fill the eye, or dazzle the imagination, so as to come in competition with the higher order of historic composition, or even with the portraits of Titian, or Vandyke, and other masters who painted in the large or life size, and had the grandeur, which depends so much upon an opportunity of giving vigour of style and breadth of effect.

It nevertheless possesses many advantages for the objects of portraiture, peculiarly its own; and is equally susceptible of truth in resemblance, and beauty of execution with works executed of a large size. In composition, colour, light, and shadow, it is governed by the same principles as other departments of the art, and is capable of carrying them to as great a degree of perfection.

The early history of miniature-painting is extremely obscure, and so completely confounded with the history of the art in general, as to make it a matter of great difficulty to sepa

rate it.*

For this brief history of the art, I am indebted to T. S. Cummings, Esq. N. A.

Older miniature painters.


A consecutive notice of the practitioners of miniature painting would be more than our limits would admit. A sketch of its progress is all I can promise.

The first mention made of miniature painters in the annals of legitimate painting, and distinct from illuminators, appears to be of painters in oil, of what are now called cabinet pictures; for such a title is given to John De Laer, a painter in the Dutch school, of landscape and figures. He is, by the historians, called the first miniature painter of his time.

This definition of miniature-painting is wide of our present purpose, as I shall confine my remarks to those only who painted in water-colours and on vellum, paper or ivory; that is, in what is now called miniature-painting.

The earliest artist, coming within this limit is Giotto, an illuminator of manuscript; which practice was in great repute as early as the eleventh century, and continued so to the end of the thirteenth. Giotto may be considered the founder of miniature painting, or at least it received so much improvement from his pencil, as to entitle him to the eredit of the invention. Baldinucci, states that Giotto executed a series of histories from the old testament, in miniature, and speaks of it as a work of most exquisite minuteness and finish.

I believe the general practice of that day extended no farther than neat outlining, filled up with vermilion, or red lead. Brightness of colour and gilding, were the chief objects aimed at by the illuminators of manuscripts, and they frequently succeeded in producing the most dazzling effects.

The introduction of the art of printing destroyed the fetters that limited knowledge to the rich only; and of course destroyed this expensive mode of book making. What resource the miniature painters of that period had I know not. I shall therefore confine myself to the mere notice of the practice of illuminating, and pass on to the latter part of the sixteenth, and beginning of the seventeenth century, a time when we find miniature-painting in great repute for the purpose of portraiture.

Sir Balthasar Gerbier, a miniature painter of Antwerp, visited England in 1613, and was one of the most popular painters of his day. He was principal painter in small to Charles the First, by whom he was knighted, and he was also employed by the court in many important missions. He was sent to Flanders to negotiate privately a treaty with Spain, the very treaty (remarks Walpole,) in which Rubens was commissioned on the part of the Infanta, and for which end that great painter visited England.


Cromwell's miniature by Cooper.

Of the English miniature painters of this period, none ranked higher than Hilliard and Oliver; "the first native artists," says Walpole, "who have any claims to distinction." Hilliard painted Mary, Queen of Scots, which procured him universal fame, and he was soon after appointed principal painter in small to Queen Elizabeth, whose picture he also painted. His works are celebrated for their elaborate finish, and their force and truth.

About this time also flourished Cooper, called the Vandyke of his time in miniature. That sycophantic coxcomb Pepys quaintly calls him "the great limner in little." His pencil was generally confined to a head only; and so far he was considered to surpass all others. His most famous production is the miniature portrait of Oliver Cromwell.

"This miniature," says Walpole, "enlarged by a magnifying glass, will compare with any of Vandyke's portraits," and he believes that Vandyke would appear less great by the comparison.

This celebrated picture (as well, I believe, as all the miniatures of this period,) is painted wholly with opaque colours.

The exact time of the introduction of the use of transparent colours, as now practised, is difficult to ascertain. The draperies are at present only executed in opaque pigments, though the French school still retain them for their back-grounds, as well as draperies.

The merit of first painting miniatures in transparent colours is accorded by some to Jeremiah Myers, an English artist. I cheerfully award him all praise for the introduction of a practice which contributes so much to give aeriel tranparency, tone, and at the same time depth and richness to this interesting department of art.

As this work is only a record of American artists, or such as practised their art in America, I conclude this sketch of the history of miniature-painting, by a notice of the first miniature-painter of whom I have knowledge, and who now succeeds in chronological arrangement.


This was an Irish gentleman, who painted miniatures in Boston and married there. He left it with the British troops, and was as early as 1777 established in William-street, New-York, and continued to paint all the military heroes or beaux of the garrison, and all the belles of the place. He did not accompany the army when it left our shores, but continued the best artist in his branch for many years after. Mr. Ramage occasionally

« PreviousContinue »