Haunting Likenesses: The Anonymous 19th-Century Woman in Photographic Portraits

This post discusses photographic portraits in Bartow-Pell’s fall exhibition, The “Quiet Circle”: Women and Girls in 19th-Century America, on view until November 19.

The faces look out at us. Their eyes lock ours. Long ago, they stared into a camera and time stopped. Who are the sitters in these haunting portraits?

Bartow-Pell’s fall exhibition includes several photographic portraits of anonymous 19th-century women and a young girl. The images are revealing, but most of the details of the sitters’ lives will probably always be an enigma. In any case, aren’t most of us intrigued by a good mystery? Isn’t that part of the legendary allure of the Mona Lisa, for example?

The daguerreotype introduced photography to Americans in 1839, and it must have seemed like a miracle. Although this process produced sharp and detailed images, the mirror-like silver surfaces were hard to read. Cheaper methods with better visibility, such as ambrotypes, tintypes, and cartes de visite, were developed in the 1850s. By then more and more people could afford to sit for the camera.

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Young Girl, 1855–65. New England. Ambrotype. Gift of Barbara and Charles Dennis, Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum 2006.07

Let’s take a look at what may be the earliest portrait on display, an ambrotype taken in the 1850s or early 1860s of an unidentified member of the Dennis and Davis families, who lived near Hartford, Connecticut. (For an overview of ambrotypes and tintypes by the Library of Congress, click here.) The sitter is a girl who looks to be about twelve years old. She wears a light plaid dress (possibly for summer). Was it her favorite? The wide off-the-shoulder neckline for party dresses was popular with older girls from the 1840s to the 1860s. A heavy choker necklace with what is perhaps a large locket adorns her neck. Clearly, the young girl is from a well-to-do New England family, but other details are more subjective. She looks at the camera tentatively, and her hands rest demurely in her lap. Her facial expression and body language are timid, reserved, thoughtful, and even a bit anxious. But was she normally like this? Perhaps on that day, she was a little unsure about being photographed. After all, this was new technology in the mid-19th century. In addition, having your portrait taken was a special occurrence, and early photographs emerged from a long tradition of formal painted portraits in which serious expressions were acceptable. Furthermore, long exposure times made it difficult to hold a frozen smile, and poor dentistry probably didn’t encourage people to grin for posterity as we do in today’s toothy photos.

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Dress, 1850. Probably American. Silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1976

Tintypes were made on thin but sturdy metal sheets, which meant that the additional expense of brass mats, velvet linings, protective glass, and leather cases was merely optional instead of obligatory, as it was for daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, which were made with more fragile materials. There are two Civil War-era tintypes of women of modest means in BPMM’s exhibition.

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Young Woman and Infant, 1860–65. Tintype. Private collection

The first tintype depicts a young woman, who is perhaps still a teenager, holding an infant. Her clothing is unassuming but tidy, and her hairstyle is plain and practical. She wears what was probably her best outfit—a simple day dress, made of printed cotton, with white cuffs and a dressy collar held in place by the ubiquitous cameo brooch. An infant—who appears to be about six or seven months old—stares placidly at the camera and rests comfortably on the sitter’s lap, enfolded in her arms. The child wears a long white dress, which, at this period, was standard daily wear for infants until they became more mobile at about nine months old. The strong facial resemblance between the two figures indicates that this is a family portrait, rather than a photograph of a nursemaid for a well-to-do family with her charge. The pair is probably a mother and her child (although they could be siblings). In any case, this companionable twosome appears to be at ease with each other. A painted backdrop depicts a curtained window overlooking a landscape and represents an attempt by the photographer to create a genteel studio setting that linked his customers to respectable society.

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Infant’s dress, mid-19th century. American. Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Gift of Mrs. W. Rodman Peabody. www.mfa.org

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Domestic Servant, ca. 1863–65. Tintype. Private Collection

A second tintype in the exhibition likely portrays a domestic servant. Her dark calico dress with a gathered bodice is appropriate for household chores, and although she has ventured out to the photographer’s studio, she still wears her work apron. Did she have time off, or did she stop to have her photograph made while running errands during the work day? Writers of the period commented that servants often had a love of fashion, and, accordingly, the sitter wears a flower-trimmed straw hat in the latest style, a lace collar, and several pieces of jewelry. She is a confident woman who holds her head high, and she appears to feel like a million bucks attired in her finery. This proud working woman has large, capable hands and a no-nonsense expression on her open face with its hand-tinted rosy cheeks. The photographer’s tasseled velvet curtain imparts an air of elegance that belies the sitter’s humble station.

Godey July 1863

The same figure appeared a year later in Godey’s Lady’s Book, which helped to popularize French styles in the United States.

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Detail from a fashion plate by Héloïse Leloir, La Mode Illustrée, 1862. This hat is similar to the one in the tintype on display at BPMM.

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Woman in Mourning, 1860–65. Philadelphia. Carte de visite. Private Collection

Our last portrait is a carte de visite from the Civil War period, when these small photographs, which were printed on paper and mounted on card stock, were especially popular. This image of an unknown young woman in mourning was taken in Philadelphia. At that time, women were advised to wear deep black exclusively during the first period of mourning, including black “crape” veils over their faces. After the initial phase, white collars and white cuffs or undersleeves were allowed, as can be seen here. The sitter wears a well-made dress (perhaps made of bombazine, a silk-and-wool fabric) and a collar that is held in place by a black mourning brooch, which was likely fashioned from jet or gutta-percha (a hard rubberlike substance). Her hair is held in what appears to be a black-banded net. A wedding band is faintly visible on her left hand. Although we do not know whom she is mourning—her husband or a brother killed in the war; a relative who died from disease, an accident, or old age; or even her child—the sadness in her face tells us that it was someone she cared about deeply, and there is a transcendent stillness in her pose that suggests the physical effects of grief. The balloon-back chair and brocade-covered side table are typical studio props.

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Mourning dress, ca. 1867. American. Cotton and silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jacqueline Loewe Fowler Costume Collection, Gift of Jacqueline Loewe Fowler, 1982

This is only a minuscule sample of countless photographic portraits of forgotten (and unforgotten) faces that survive from the 19th century. These can be found in museums, private collections, family albums, flea markets, and online auctions. They teach us about everything from family history and social customs to clothing styles and photography practices. Even more, they radiate a sense of mystery that allows us to use our imagination to interpret these “faithful likenesses.”

Margaret Highland, Exhibition Curator

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They Will Do It Anyway: Bloomers, Cycling, and the New Woman

This post discusses an 1897 advertisement for bicycle tires in BPMM’s fall exhibition, The “Quiet Circle”: Women and Girls in 19th-Century America, on view until November 19.

New Brunswick Tire Co. Advertisement

Bicycle Tire Advertisement, 1897. New Brunswick Tire Company (New Jersey)

In 1898, the ex-governor of Ohio, Joseph B. Foraker, contributed to an article entitled “Shall Wheelwomen Wear Bloomers?” in which he proclaimed: “If women want to wear bloomers when riding a bicycle I don’t believe there is much use in objecting. They will do it anyway, so there is no special need of saying anything for or against the costume. . .  Women have a right, within the bounds of reason, to dress as they please, and personally I don’t care what they wear on the wheel.”

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Illustration from The Model New Woman: A Study in Bloomers by George F. Hall, 1895

The so-called New Woman got people talking in the 1890s. A lot. All around America —from small towns like Garnett, Kansas, to big cities like New York—newspapers, magazines, books, stories, poems, sermons, and even popular music debated the merits of the New Woman, who rode a bicycle, wore bloomers, and had progressive ideas. Some people applauded her, others were contemptuous, a few were indifferent. She was often ridiculed. But she got people’s attention.

Bicycles were closely associated with the New Woman as a symbol of her freedom, modernity, independence, and athleticism. “New Woman’s Garb: Shall She Wear Bloomers or Retain Her Skirts? Widespread Discussion of and Deep Feelings Aroused by the Innovation,” in the New York Sun, was one of countless articles on the subject that were published around the country in 1895 at the height of the bloomer craze. The author quotes a suffragette, who says that “woman will ride to emancipation and equal freedom with man, full and complete, on a bicycle and in bloomers.”

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Samuel D. Ehrhart (American, ca. 1862–1937). The bicycle—the great dress reformer of the nineteenth century! Illustration from Puck, August 7, 1895. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-29031

ad detailThe 1897 bicycle tire advertisement in Bartow-Pell’s fall exhibition is for the New Brunswick Tire Company. This New Jersey firm, which was in the rubber business for sixty years before being sold in 1899, was one of a number of companies that ultimately became part of Michelin. In the ad, the words “up to date” appear next to a stylish bloomer-wearing cyclist, who energetically embraces her new wheels and the freedom they provide. Bicycle-related products were extensively advertised at this period and were good sources of advertising revenue.

Bicycle firms would cease to exist, or not exist so profusely, were it not for the fact that the “new woman” can be utilized to advantage in bicycle advertising . . . At any rate, it’s a fact that one-third of every magazine and journal is advertisements, and one-half that is the charming “new woman” astride a bicycle. . . . Bicycles sell well, and I am certain it’s due, largely, to the mode of advertising them. Dr. Caroline Peterson, “The New Woman,” Proceedings of the Iowa Pharmaceutical Association, 1896

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This 1852 illustration from The Water-Cure Journal contrasts the sensible “American Costume” with trousers (left and right) with the tightly corseted, full-skirted, and impractical “French Costume” (center).

Amelia Bloomer from Life & Writings 1895

Amelia Bloomer (1818–1894)

Bloomers, however, were nothing new. Beginning in the 1850s, “Turkish trousers” were sometimes worn under shortened dresses without tight stays as part of the reform-dress movement. In 1851, the outfits caused a public sensation after women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton learned about the new style from her cousin. When Stanton’s friend Amelia Bloomer described the costume in her temperance and women’s rights periodical, The Lily, other journalists picked up the story, and the fashion soon took her name. At this time, these unconventional ensembles were worn by progressive, well-to-do women for comfort, health, and practicality and by some women, such as farmers’ wives and pioneers, as work clothes. The bicycling bloomer girl was at least a generation away.

First experience, 1893

Illustration from Demorest’s Monthly Magazine, August 1895

The bloomer-wearing New Woman of the 1890s—whose persona was partly a reaction against the nineteenth-century idea of a woman’s “sphere”—elicited some strong opinions. For example, the New York Sun reported in 1895 that the Reverend T. B. Hawthorne of Atlanta accused women of “riding to the devil in bloomers” and preached that the craze was “born of infidelity.” But the Reverend John W. Shelton of Mason, Ohio, dismissed “the indignant protests of the scandalized anti-bloomerites in his congregation” by supporting the bloomer-attired organist who rode her bike to church in “a very sensible costume.” The reporter also wrote that many women were against bloomers. “Naturally this sentiment is not much evidenced in print, nor in public.” Julia Hemphill, whose essay was published in the 1895 Annual Report of the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, called the New Woman a “fearless” American girl with “a cultured mind and a skillful hand” who was doing “great good” for the country. The author of “Bloomers,” a comic poem in The Opera Glass (1896), teasingly described modern young women from different states and the contents of their bloomer pockets—a flask for Kentucky’s maidens, a pistol for the cycling girl of Texas, a volume of Robert Browning for the bloomer girl of Boston, women’s suffrage speeches for the “daisy belle” of Kansas, and a “tutti-frutti pocket full of gum to mend her tire” for the Manhattan “bloomer damsel.”

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Bloomers were often worn by female students for physical education classes, such as this “gymnasium costume” worn by students at Mount Holyoke College in 1893.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns some examples of similar gym suits.

Although many people agreed that bloomers were practical and comfortable, the costume was often deemed unattractive. Several prominent people talked about the look in “Shall Wheelwomen Wear Bloomers?”  A journalist, Cynthia M. Westover, called them “homely” and ugly. Miss Florence Dangerfield, a lawyer, disapproved of women being “mannish in appearance” and found bloomers “inartistic.” But not all individuals agreed. Oliver Sumner Teall, “society man, politician, and bon vivant,” said that “a pretty girl in bloomers is charming” and “so very killing”  when “she comes daintily along . . . leading her wheel.” Charles Dana Gibson, on the other hand, was not a fan, and although the Gibson Girl, like the Bloomer girl, was independent and athletic, Gibson’s statuesque beauties almost always wear dresses. A rare exception can be found in a satirical illustration entitled The Coming Game: Yale versus Vassar (1895).

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Charles Dana Gibson (1867–1944). The Coming Game: Yale versus Vassar, 1895

Here is a small sampling of more remarks from contemporaries:

She has been defined as—
“A fresh darn in the original blue stocking”
“Man’s newest and best reason for remaining single”
“The New Woman,” Julia A. Hemphill, 1895

The dear new woman! I like her. Perhaps she is crude in her newness. Give her time.
From a Girl’s Point of View, Lilian Bell, 1897

It’s a rather difficult task to say anything original on such a threadbare subject as the “New Woman.” Poor “new woman!” She can be called old by this time. For the past two years, and even longer, she has been before the public. She has figured as the leading and shining light of our comic papers; she has been the favorite theme for the magazine editor to weave his editorials out of. Playwrights have written all sorts of plays wherein “ye new woman” was the leading star. . . . The “new woman” is a fake. She does not exist in flesh and blood; it’s only on paper you find her.
“The New Woman,” Dr. Caroline Peterson, 1896

Whether or not the New Woman of the 1890s really existed “in flesh and blood,” she can currently be found “on paper” at Bartow-Pell.

Margaret Highland, Exhibition Curator

 

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One Thousand “Girls” and the “Indestructible” Crinoline: W. S. and C. H. Thomson’s Skirt Manufactory

This post discusses an 1859 engraving of W. S. and C. H. Thomson’s Skirt Manufactory in Bartow-Pell’s fall exhibition, The “Quiet Circle”: Women and Girls in 19th-Century America, on view until November 19.

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W. S. & C. H. Thomson’s Skirt Manufactory. Wood-engraved illustration from Harper’s Weekly, February 19, 1859

The Indestructible SkirtThe year is 1859, and an extreme clothing trend is gripping the Western world—the hoop skirt, otherwise known as the cage crinoline or skeleton skirt. Meanwhile, a female-managed hoop-skirt factory in New York City employs one thousand women and girls, creating a happy partnership of social reform and fashion fad.

In 1859, Harper’s Weekly, a mainstream periodical with a large circulation, published a series of articles about the “employment of women,” including illustrated pieces on Thomson’s Crown-Skirt Factory and its competitor Douglas & Sherwood. GirlThe Harper’s wood engraving in Bartow-Pell’s exhibition depicts the Thomson factory floor teeming with industrious, well-dressed, and attractive young women working at various stages of hoop-skirt production. Women supervisors preside over this idealized scene. A young girl (identified by her shorter skirt) appears to be employed as a runner and hands a bolt of cloth to another worker. Bold letters at the front of the room spell out “Strive to Excel,” a popular inspirational phrase. The artist has not forgotten to add a bit of advertising for Thomson’s products near the title and has included the words “Patent Indestructable” [sic].

Hoop unknown maker 1862

Unknown maker. Cage crinoline, American, 1862. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. William R. Witherell, 1953 C.I.53.72.13. Thomson hoops are in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Skirts became wider in the 1850s. For a while, women wore multiple layers of petticoats in order to achieve the desirable silhouette, as they had in the 1840s. Some petticoats were even made with horsehair (or “crin” in French), which provided support and bulk but was heavy and stiff. According to Harper’s Weekly in January 1859, “the weight of several such skirts, and the heat generated proving injurious to health, the attention of makers was directed toward the discovery of a substitute, and hoop skirts were invented.” Lightweight steel hoops allowed women to be fashionable but more comfortable. They were also an improvement over their historical precedent, the eighteenth-century pannier.

In House and Home Papers (1865), Harriet Beecher Stowe put it like this:

Look at the hoop-skirt factories—women wanted hoop-skirts—would have them or die—and forthwith factories arose, and hoop-skirts became as the dust of the earth for abundance.

“Yes,” said Miss Featherstone, “and to say the truth, the American hoop-skirts are the only ones fit to wear. When we were living on the Champs Elysées, I remember we searched high and low for something like them, and finally had to send home to America for some.”

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Dress, American, 1860–65. Silk and mother-of-pearl. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mary Pierrepont Beckwith, 1969 C.I.69.33.4a–d. After 1860, skirts became flatter at the front with the volume towards the back, and crinoline designs followed suit.

The W. S. and C. H. Thomson Skirt Factory was one of the largest manufacturers of hoop skirts in the world. William Sparks Thomson and his brother Charles Henry founded their eponymous manufacturing company in 1856, and Charles H. Langdon joined the partnership in 1858. The factory was located in New York on Broadway, and it originally produced cloaks and mantillas (shawls). But after the steel-hooped cage crinoline appeared in France in 1856, W. S. Thomson shrewdly jumped on board. In 1858, he patented the “eyelet fastening,” an H-shaped washer that was used with an eyelet to secure the crinoline’s steel hoops to its fabric straps. Thomson claimed that this innovation made the hoop “indestructible.” In 1859, the factory is said to have produced three to four thousand hoops a day and used 300,000 yards of steel and 150,000 yards of tape per week.

The Thomson company was a progressive supporter of working women. According to “Employment of Women: Thomson’s Crown-Skirt Factory,” published in Harper’s Weekly in February 1859: “The whole establishment is under the superintendence of a woman, who from the first has exercised control over the employment of hands, the arrangement of work, and the remuneration paid. Even the accountants of the factory are women.” The article also explains that the factory employed an average of one thousand “girls,” who had mostly “been taken from the ranks of plain sewers, and educated to the hoop skirt manufacture.”

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“Only to think, Julia dear, that our Mothers wore such ridiculous fashions as these! Ha! ha! ha! ha!,” 1857. Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Although the cage crinoline, with its oversized proportions, was often the subject of ridicule, the Harper’s Weekly author points out its value to society: “The revilers of the hoop will thus perceive that it is, after all, an institution not wholly useless, inasmuch as in this establishment alone it feeds, clothes, and warms over one thousand females, many of whom have children or aged persons depending on them.” In addition, the “Messrs. Thomson, we understand, contemplate the establishment of a library for their employees, and likewise propose to have a competent lecturer give, in one of the great halls of their establishment, a course of free lectures to the girls and their friends.” The practice of providing continuing education and self-improvement for female factory workers had a precedent in the textile mills at Lowell, Massachusetts.

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Emile Bourdelin. La Jupe Américaine Thomson. Illustration from Le Monde Illustré, April 19, 1862. This engraving depicts Thomson’s factories in Paris (St. Denis), London, New York, and Saxony (Germany).

1860 Eng ad Cornhill vol. 5Thomson’s business was so successful that the company opened factories in London, Paris, Brussels, and present-day Germany, where the firm exuberantly touted its American-designed products. The Paris factory was located on the outskirts of the city in St. Denis. Emile Bourdelin, writing in Le Monde Illustré in 1862, describes “la jupe-cage Américaine Thomson” as “une véritable révolution,” which was high praise coming from the fashionable French. The American-run establishment offered training by female supervisors and boasted machinery that even “jeunes filles” could easily operate. The author opines that Messrs. Thomson “ont ainsi contribué à améliorer la position de la classe ouvrière femme, si peu favorisée jusqu’ici.” In other words, Thomson improved the lives of working-class women by offering them good jobs at a decent wage. American ingenuity was helping women at home and abroad.

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A Work-Room in Douglas & Sherwood’s Skirt Manufactory. Wood-engraved illustration from Harper’s Weekly, January 29, 1859

Thomson was not the only successful American hoop-manufacturing company. A History of American Manufactures (1864) claimed “it is estimated that as many as sixty thousand of the various sizes are made each day during eight months of the year” by Thomson and its competitors, such as Douglas & Sherwood, a New York firm that also employed women and provided them with educational resources (namely, a 2,000-volume library).

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Hoop, American, ca. 1860. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mary Means Huber. This hoop is currently on view at Bartow-Pell in Clarina’s bedchamber.

An 1863 advertisement in a British magazine listed a variety of reasons why women should buy prize-winning Thomson crinolines. They were “capital for preserving the dress, just suited for morning dress, superior for the promenade, easily compressible for the carriage, highly recommended for the home circle, and admirable for parties.” In addition, they were “better than medicine for health,” did not “cause accidents,” were “never in cases of fire,” did not “appear at inquests,” and provided “health, happiness, and beauty for children.” This savvy marketing ticked a lot of boxes for the nineteenth-century woman—propriety, economy, fashion, health and safety, family, children.

Godey April 1863

The styles featured in Godey’s Fashions for April 1863 relied on cage crinolines to support voluminous skirts.

The hoop skirt only lasted for about ten years and began to go out of style in the late 1860s. It was supplanted by the bustle in the 1870s. During its heyday, the crinoline had some problems. A rare but serious hazard was fire. In 1861, Godey’s Lady’s Book published “An Article which all Ladies ought to Read.” It described the agonizing death of a London woman who reached for an envelope and caught her sleeve on fire by brushing against a candle. “She had on one of those crinolines made of steel hoops,” where the fire quickly spread. “If it had not been for the crinoline, too, her life might have been saved.” The coroner “thought that she was another victim of the prevailing costume among ladies.” On a purely practical level, cage crinolines were often inconveniently wide, in addition to being rigid. Accordingly, many cartoonists made fun of them.

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New Contrivance for Lady’s Maids, Adapted to the Present Style of Fashions, 1857. Courtesy of the New York Public Library

When fashions changed, what happened to hoop-skirt factories and the jobs they provided? Thomson’s company, for example, had another success story with its popular patented glove-fitting corset. And, as is well known, the women’s garment industry has continued to evolve and flourish. To use Thomson’s word, fashion is “indestructible.”

Margaret Highland, Exhibition Curator

 

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Neo-Classical Darlings: Two Watercolors after Adam Buck

 

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Unknown artist (British). The Darling Awake (detail), ca. 1809–30. After a color stipple engraving by Samuel Freeman (British, 1773–1857), after an original work by Adam Buck (Anglo-Irish, 1759–1833). Watercolor on paper. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum 2006.05

Americans love British imports—the Beatles, tea and scones, Noel Coward, Downton Abbey, James Bond, Hunter wellies. The list is endless. And it was the same in the nineteenth century, when the Brit invasion included Charles Dickens, Staffordshire ceramics, Argand lamps, the poetry of Lord Byron, and Ackermann’s Repository of Arts.

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Augustus Charles Pugin (British, born France, 1769–1832). Ackermann’s Room in the Strand, 1809. Hand-colored etching with aquatint. Victoria and Albert Museum, Given by Miss E. Manson. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Rudolph Ackermann (1764–1834) was a Regency publisher and print seller. From 1809 to 1828, he published Ackermann’s Repository, a highbrow British magazine that featured the newest fashions, arts, literature, politics, and more. This monthly periodical was also available in the United States, where cultured New Yorkers could buy an annual subscription for £4 12s with free postage, and Bostonians could peruse issues at the Atheneum. Ackermann was also the proprietor of a fashionable London shop on the Strand, the Repository of Arts, which sold prints, books, fancy goods, and art supplies. Americans traveling and living abroad could easily visit this elegant emporium to purchase Ackermann’s stylish merchandise.

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Adam Buck. The Artist and His Family, 1813. Watercolor, pen, and ink on paper mounted on board. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. The background objects in this family portrait announce the artist’s passion for ancient Greek vase paintings and their influence on his compositions.

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Tea saucer, ca. 1812–1830s. British. Bat-printed transferware. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. Teaware with Adam Buck’s maternal scenes was sold in Britain and also exported to the American market.

One of the best-known artists whose work Ackermann published and promoted through engravings was the Irish-born portraitist and watercolorist Adam Buck (1759–1833). Like many people of his era, Buck was a keen enthusiast of the Antique at a time when interest in new archaeological discoveries merged with a reaction against extravagant and fussy Baroque design. Buck also collected and studied ancient Greek vase paintings, and their inspiration infuses his work, which includes clean lines, figures in profile, Grecian props, and classical drapery. His “modern” depictions of idealized mothers and children in the classical taste strongly appealed to the market’s craving for contemporary interpretations of antiquity, and Buck’s compositions were widely reproduced in prints and on transferware ceramics.

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Aaron Willard (American, 1757–1844). Mantel clock, 1817. Mahogany, pine, églomisé glass, and brass. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Mrs. Mary D.B. Wilson in memory of Charles H. Wilson of Hingham. This Boston clock was made by Aaron Willard, a member of the well-known Massachusetts clock-making family. The base features a version of Adam Buck’s The Darling Asleep surrounded by a gilt-stenciled border.

Bartow-Pell owns two fine watercolors after Adam Buck—The Darling Asleep and The Darling Awake. These companion pieces hang in the Lannuier bedchamber. They may have been executed by an accomplished amateur artist or perhaps even by a teenaged schoolgirl. The watercolors are copies of color stipple engravings of Buck’s paintings by the London artist Samuel Freeman (1773–1857) that were published by Ackermann in 1809. In both, a besotted mother in a white neoclassical gown and curled hair worn in the latest style gazes upon her “darling.” The figures in The Darling Awake mimic those in other Adam Buck works—I Will Have a Kiss (1800) and The Artist and His Family (1813). The klismos chair and footstool are in the highly fashionable classical style that was popularized by designers such as Buck’s contemporary Thomas Hope (1769–1831). The first quarter of the nineteenth century was also a great age for poetry, and each scene includes some sentimental verse. Although the pictures appear sweetly romantic to our eyes, a viewer in 1809 would have seen these as refined emblems of modern design.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Women and Girls in 19th-Century America: The “Quiet Circle”?

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People sometimes assume that American women in the 19th century were meek and undemanding homebodies. But were they? Well, some probably were, but certainly not all, and things were starting to change.

Catharine E. Beecher, SJ Hale Woman's Record 1853

Catharine Esther Beecher. Illustration from Woman’s Record; or Sketches of All Distinguished Women by Sarah Josepha Hale, 1853

According to the influential American educator Catharine E. Beecher (1800–1878):

If, on the one hand, an American woman cannot escape from the quiet circle of domestic employments, on the other hand, she is never forced to go beyond it. Hence it is, that the women of America, who often exhibit a masculine strength of understanding, and a manly energy, generally preserve great delicacy of personal appearance, and always retain the manners of women, although they sometimes show that they have the hearts and minds of men. A Treatise on Domestic Economy (1843)

Beecher wrote that American women often showed “a manly energy” and sometimes had the “hearts and minds of men,” but they still had “great delicacy” and were confined to the “quiet circle” of domesticity. Her views were both enlightened and traditional. Like many of her contemporaries, she believed that women and men inhabited separate “spheres.” Although Beecher touted the equality of women’s intellects and was a progressive advocate for female education, she opposed women’s suffrage and thought that they were more suited to a vital domestic role. Some agreed; others did not.

1908 Seneca Falls souvenir card Library of Congress

Souvenir card published in 1908 at Seneca Falls, New York, in commemoration of  the 1848 convention. Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collection Division, NAWSA Miller Scrapbook Collection. New York, the birthplace of the women’s rights movement, gave women the vote in 1917. This year marks the centennial of women’s suffrage in the Empire State.

In 1848, the first women’s rights convention was held at Seneca Falls, New York, and was attended by activists such as the abolitionists and reformers Lucretia Mott and Frederick Douglass. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) helped draft a Declaration of Sentiments that recognized unequal, oppressive, and tyrannical treatment of women and included a list of grievances against the American government that ranged from obedience in marriage to exclusion from the ministry to a different moral code for men and women. The declaration was signed by one hundred attendees.

Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation, in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.

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William R. Hamilton (Scottish, American 1795–1879). Catherine Jane Masterton, 1834. Oil on canvas. Collection of Mary Means Huber

Bartow-Pell’s fall exhibition explores and celebrates the daily lives of nineteenth-century American women and girls within this century of change. Artwork, clothing, books, decorative arts, domestic items, ephemera, and other objects provide a glimpse of the female world at this time. A highlight is a portrait of ten-year-old Catherine Jane Masterton of Bronxville by the Scottish-born painter William R. Hamilton (1795–1879), which will be on loan from a private collector of Americana and has rarely been on public view. Upcoming blog posts will take a closer look at some of the stories that have emerged through the exhibition objects.

The “Quiet Circle”: Women and Girls in 19th-Century America will be on view from September 1 to November 19 in Bartow-Pell’s library exhibition space and in some of the period rooms.

Margaret Highland, Exhibition Curator

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A New Floor with an Old Look: Bartow-Pell’s “Floor Cloth”

Entry Hall

The new “floor cloth” in Bartow-Pell’s entry hall. This painted floor imitates a 19th-century oilcloth.

Bartow-Pell learned in September 2017 that it is the proud winner of a Greater Hudson Heritage Network 2017 Award for Excellence for its Historic Preservation Floor Covering Project. Kudos to our curatorial committee and to artist Franklin Tartaglione for their work on this project!

The Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum is thrilled to unveil a new entry hall floor covering in the manner of the period around 1842, when the residence was completed. The new “floor cloth” replaces linoleum flooring that was laid 35 years ago and had seen better days. The new covering has a field of octagonal patterns of faux marble interspersed with rosettes modeled on those found on early 19th-century mirror frames, which were in turn inspired by those used in ancient Greek and Roman architecture. A bold Greek key band borders the field.

According to Carswell Berlin, a BPMM board member, co-chair of the Curatorial Committee, and an expert in classical decorative arts: “The design is fully in keeping with the bold and colorful floor coverings of the period and with a Greek Revival house. Although the nature of the original floor covering used by the Bartows in 1842 is unknown, it is highly likely that they would have had a painted canvas floor cloth, the precursor of linoleum, in the entry foyer and that they would have felt very much at home with our historically appropriate choice of design.” In 1881, a floor cloth was listed on Maria Bartow’s estate inventory.

Roman mosaic Circencester

This mosaic pavement, which was found in a Roman villa in the English town of Cirencester in 1849, possibly influenced floor cloth designs.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, painted canvas floor cloths or oilcloths were used much as modern linoleum is, in high-traffic areas where durability and easy cleaning are significant issues. Unlike linoleum today, however, painted floor cloths were used in the most visible and fashionable rooms in the house such as entry halls and dining rooms. A much less expensive alternative to stone, floor cloths were available in a wide variety of fashionable patterns and colors to suit every taste.

Carwitham plate 2

John Carwitham. Illustration from Various Kinds of Floor Decorations, London, 1739

Many manufacturers of oilcloths in Scotland and England, such as Michael Nairn of Kirkcaldy, Scotland, imported their wares into the United States. And a few domestic makers, such as New York Pattern Floor Cloth Manufactory at 35 Rivington Street, advertised their availability here. Oilcloths, both imported and domestic, were made available through carpet retailers, including Thomas L. Chester of 203 Broadway, who supplied the Astor Hotel, Peterson & Humphrey at 370 Broadway, and W & J Sloane at 245 Broadway.

Republic January 29, 1853

Newspaper advertisement for oilcloths manufactured by Albro & Hoyt, New York, 1853. “These goods are well seasoned, and will endure any climate.” According to An Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy (1845), cloths that had been aged a year or two were more durable than newer and cheaper ones.

The industrialized process of making oilcloth involved hanging huge lengths of heavy canvas that would be coated with multiple layers of primer and then decorated. According Jeanne Gearin, a consultant to Gracewood Design, a supplier of bespoke canvas oilcloths, “The following historical method of making canvases was contained in The Illustrated Exhibitor and Art Magazine, published in 1852. The material used was made in Dundee, Scotland, of flax and hemp. They were woven on large looms, which were constructed to accommodate the rolls, which ran approximately 113 yards, by 8 yards. This length (longer than a football field) was necessary to keep them from having to be seamed. Narrower widths for stairways and halls were cut from these rolls. After being folded into 3-foot square bales, weighing about 500 pounds, they were shipped to London.

MMA Floor Cloth Factory

Anonymous (British). Four drawings showing the manufacture of floor cloth, 19th century. Graphite, white chalk, and ink on gray paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1957 57.536.3

The canvas was then stretched on large frames. These frames were in a room with 30-foot ceilings and over 90 feet in length called a ‘straining room.’ Scaffolds were erected between the frames with just enough room for a man to stand and paint first the front of one canvas and turn around and paint the back of another. The canvas was first sized and sanded with pumice to a smooth surface. Extra heavy paint was troweled on, allowed to dry, pumiced again and built up to three coats. Drying time took two to three months. No dryers were used, as they would cause the paint to crack. This large, cumbersome, heavily painted canvas was then rolled onto wooden rollers to prevent damage. It was then pulled into the printing room to be decorated. The rollers were fitted into iron sockets similar to a roller shade and gradually rolled out on the tables to be decorated.” The market for oilcloths evaporated with the introduction of linoleum in the mid-1860s.

As the Curatorial Committee watched the deterioration of the previous floor covering, they began many years ago to prepare for the day when a new floor cloth could be installed. In an effort to replace the old linoleum with the most period-appropriate flooring, the Committee researched the few artisans who have the knowledge and skill to reproduce authentic canvas oilcloth. Many meetings were held and many samples examined. After studying the suppliers and their products exhaustively, the Committee decided that an authentic canvas cloth could not withstand the constant traffic of hundreds of visitors whom Bartow-Pell welcomes each year. They come directly from the parking area in every type of weather, and they walk multiple times across the foyer. So the Committee decided to install a resilient modern product called Marmoleum, in an off-white color with no pattern, and to have the design painted on it. Marmoleum is an all natural product that does not off-gas toxins, it is fire-resistant, 100% bio-degradable and is estimated to last for 50 years as opposed to twenty for the best canvas oilcloth.

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Removing the old floor, June 2017

Fenway Floor Covering of New Rochelle, NY, was selected to remove the old linoleum and to lay the new unpainted flooring, which was done during the second week in June this year. Heat-welded seams, a new and improved technique, were used to join the four lengths of material together in order to achieve the necessary width to span the room from wall to wall and to forestall the breaking apart of seams that plagued the old flooring. In the week that followed, three coats of white primer were laid down as a ground for the decorative painting. During the final week of June, Franklin Tartaglione, who had worked as an assistant painting the previous floor 35 years earlier, arrived with his team of artists and created the masterpiece that we are celebrating today.

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Artist and decorative painter Franklin Tartaglione at work in June 2017, 35 years after he assisted on the 1982 Bartow-Pell floor.

This stunning new floor covering is part of a broad campaign planned by the Committee to upgrade the rest of the entry hall and ultimately the entire house, in order to reflect the high level of polish that surely prevailed in a home with seven servants. As part of the initial focus on the entry hall, the Committee plans to repaint the room and, accordingly, undertook a historical paint analysis of the architectural wood trim. This led to the conclusion that the original color was very much like the current wall color, which was itself the result of microscopic analysis. The massive and multiple rosewood-paneled doors with silvered knobs and hinges are also due for a restoration that will reveal the beautiful grain of the wood and the luxurious hardware on which Maria Lorillard Bartow must have spent lavishly. Needless to say, for these and other projects, funds are desperately sought.

Painting the floor cloth, 1982 (7)

Trompe l’oeil artist Robert Jackson and his assistants Franklin Tartaglione and David Robertson paint the imitation floor cloth in the entry hall in 1982. The protective varnish yellowed over the years and altered the original tan and beige colors.

Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum is extremely grateful for funding from AB―Lori and John Massad, the Paul and Klara Porzelt Foundation, and from the individuals who contributed to the 2015 holiday fundraiser paddle raise for generously underwriting the cost of this beautiful new floor. Thanks are also due to Nora Mazur, former board member and Committee co-chair, who led the effort to make it happen, and to Committee member Leah Lenney, whose assistance and knowledge were invaluable.

 

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The Bartows and Art: A Lost Portrait, Famous Relatives, and Artistic Neighbors

Sitting Room

These pendant portraits of Robert Bartow’s cousin Clarina Bartow Johnston and her husband, William Sage Johnston, are nineteenth-century copies that hang in the sitting room at Bartow-Pell.

We don’t know if the Bartow family had an interest in art, but we do know that they lived in the midst of artists, collectors, and a thriving art market.

Robert Bartow and Maria Lorillard married in 1827 and set up their household in New York City. Like most well-to-do couples, they likely purchased pictures—such as oil paintings and engravings—for the walls of their home. The art market was flourishing at the time of the Bartows’ marriage, and New York City was chock-full of auctions, dealers, and exhibitions. Fashionable Americans were especially enamored of European art, an infatuation that continued for most of the nineteenth century. In addition, the founding of the National Academy of Design in 1825 and movements in American art such as the Hudson River School helped forge a strong national artistic identity. Subsequently, the Bartows had numerous choices when it came to decorating their parlor walls.

Portraits allowed affluent people to possess likenesses of family members, which was especially meaningful in the days before photography. Portraits were also status symbols that proclaimed lineage or connections to distinguished relatives. In addition, the skill and prestige of the artist—and the sitter’s dress, setting, and props—were meant to impress and inform the viewer about the family’s wealth, education, taste, and other attributes.

Clarina Bartow Bartow

The whereabouts of this portrait of Robert Bartow’s mother, Clarina Bartow Bartow, are unknown.

This brings us to a lost portrait. A dark and grainy photocopy of a photograph in the Bartow-Pell archives is our only visual record of a portrait of an older woman identified as Robert Bartow’s mother, Clarina Bartow (1763–1839), who is depicted wearing a cap of a style popular in the 1830s. She moved from Westchester to Fishkill in 1806 with her husband and children and died at the Brooklyn home of her son Edgar in 1839. The photocopy bears a notation that names the artist as Asher B. Durand (1796–1886). Although he is best known as an engraver and Hudson River School landscape painter, Durand painted portraits in the 1830s. Expert scholarship is needed to confirm or debunk this attribution (the original portrait would help, too!).

Clarina Bartow’s portrait is mentioned in the will of the Bartows’ son Reginald Heber (1842–1888), who was her grandson. He died on October 13, 1888, at the age of forty-six.

I devise that the Portrait in oil of my Grandmother Clarina Bartow now in the possession of my sister Catharine B. Duncan . . . shall remain the property of persons related to me by blood and for that reason I give the same to my brother Theodoret Bartow directing him to dispose of the same by will to and among his issue and for want of such disposition . . . I give said articles to my oldest sister living at the death of said Theodoret Bartow . . .

Clarina Bartow née Bartow married her second cousin Augustus Bartow (1762–1810) in 1786. Robert was the couple’s first son to live to adulthood, and according to his nephew Evelyn P. Bartow in 1878, Clarina’s “portrait is in the possession of the family of her eldest son, Robert, of Pelham, N.Y.” Robert Bartow died in 1868, and he probably left the portrait to his eldest son, George. After George’s death in 1875, Reginald Heber likely inherited the painting. Although it is possible to partially trace subsequent ownership of the portrait using Reginald’s will, it appears that the Robert Bartow family line has died out, and this important family treasure is lost. Where could it be today?

Maria Bartow Cole

Thomas Cole (1801–1848). Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Maria Bartow, 1836–48. Graphite with white watercolor. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Maxim Karolik for the M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Watercolors and Drawings, 1800–1875, 55.716 www.mfa.org

Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole, 1844–48. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew Brady. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-8981

Asher B. Durand, who purportedly painted Clarina Bartow’s portrait, was a close friend of the English-born artist Thomas Cole (1801–1848), who is known as the father of the Hudson River School. Both men were also among the founders of the National Academy of Design. On November 22, 1836, Thomas Cole married Robert Bartow’s first cousin Maria Bartow in the parlor of Cedar Grove in the Catskills, which belonged to the bride’s uncle and became the couple’s home.

In 1846, Robert Bartow sold a parcel of his land to the prodigious art collector and future painter of Luminist landscapes James Suydam (1819–1865) and his sister Letitia. (Luminist painters used light and atmosphere to produce serene images of nature.) Suydam was from a wealthy family and had recently returned from a three-year European Grand Tour. By 1848, the Suydams had settled in next door to the Bartows. “The adjoining estate, Oak-shade, is the property of James A. Suydam, Esq.,” wrote local historian Robert Bolton Jr. “The house is a very beautiful specimen of the Italian villa style. The south front commands a fine view of Pelham neck and the Sound.”  The 1850 census records the artist, several of his siblings, and their mother living there, but the Suydams sold the property in 1855.

Suydam, James The Fisherman

James A. Suydam (1819–1865). The Fisherman (Going Fishing), 1848. Graphite, pen and ink, and watercolor on paper. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Stuart P. Feld. The inscription says: “A hearty man a fishing went / And on a chub his looks he bent.” It is signed, dated, and inscribed on the reverse “October 1848 / Miss [illeg.] Griffin from / James Suydam.”

James A. Suydam

John Carlin (1813–1891). James Suydam, 1859. Portrait miniature, watercolor on ivory. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum Purchase, 1974.13.1

James Suydam was in his thirties when he began the transformation from amateur to professional artist. His earliest known work, according to the 2006 exhibition publication Luminist Horizons, is a drawing now in a private collection that is dated 1848 and entitled Going Fishing. The setting, with water in the distance, resembles the landscape around the Suydam and Bartow estates. In Luminist Horizons, Katherine E. Manthorne quotes Suydam’s mentor and friend, the artist Miner Kellogg (1851): “He [Suydam] set up his easel at home in Pelham and made his first essays in oil painting from Nature.” But it wasn’t until 1861 that Suydam was made an Academician of the National Academy of Design. The artist also assembled a significant collection of more than ninety American and European paintings, which he bequeathed to the National Academy at his death in 1865, along with an endowment to be used for the Academy’s art school.

Pelham Priory, ca. 1860

Pelham Priory, ca. 1860

The Bartows’ neighbors also included the Reverend Robert Bolton (1788–1857) of the Pelham Priory, Anne Jay Bolton, and their artistic Anglo-American family of thirteen children. In 1843, William Jay Bolton (1816–1884) designed the Adoration of the Magi at Christ Church, Pelham (where the Bartows occasionally worshipped), which is the first known figural stained-glass window in the United States.

Bolton Magi

William Jay Bolton (1816–1884). Adoration of the Magi, 1843. Stained-glass window at Christ Church, Pelham

Edgar John Bartow

Edgar John Bartow (1809–1864) wanted to build a grand church in Brooklyn with rent-free pews. The Church of the Holy Trinity was built between 1844 and 1847.

A few years later, Jay and his brother John (1818–1898) executed a large program of windows for the Church of the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn Heights, in a building designed by Minard Lafever and funded by Robert Bartow’s brother Edgar John Bartow (1809–1864).

William Jay Bolton was also a painter and Associate of the National Academy of Design whose teacher was the Academy’s president Samuel F. B. Morse. On April 22, 1843 (coincidentally or not, the foundation stone of Christ Church was laid about a week later), Jay invited Morse to Pelham, but the older artist was unable to accept even though he “should be glad to luxuriate amidst its spring flowers,” according to a letter in the archives of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. Jay, John, and their brothers also excelled at woodcarving, and some of their sisters were accomplished watercolorists and floral painters. Their father was an enthusiastic art collector, and the family’s sprawling Gothic Revival mansion was full of art, antiques, and all manner of collectibles, including paintings such as a portrait attributed to Thomas Gainsborough (see Blake Bell’s blog post for more).

Hunter Mansion 1882

John Hunter mansion, 1882. Albumen print. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York. The house once stood in what is today Pelham Bay Park. It was demolished in the 1930s, when Robert Moses was Parks Commissioner.

NY Herald ad 1.18.1866

Advertisement for the auction of John Hunter’s picture collection. New York Herald, January 18, 1866. Did the Bartows attend?

John Hunter (1778–1852) lived near the Bartows in his grand mansion on Hunter’s Island, where he entertained his friend President Martin Van Buren. Hunter was well known for his celebrated collection of Old Master paintings, and, by 1850, he had amassed almost four hundred oil paintings, almost all by European artists. Robert Bolton Jr. described Hunter’s house in 1848: “The principal rooms, together with a large picture gallery, are hung around with an extensive collection of paintings by the best masters.” Bolton remarked on works said to be by Raphael, Poussin, and Rembrandt, among others. The collection was auctioned off in New York City by Hunter’s heirs in 1866. Works offered for sale were said to be by artists such as Fragonard, van Dyck, and Rubens, but it is unknown if all were authentic because dubious attributions and copies passed off as originals were common problems in the nineteenth century.

Cot, The Storm

Pierre-Auguste Cot (French, 1837–1883). The Storm, 1880. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1887, 87.15.134 http://www.metmuseum.org/. Catharine Lorillard Wolfe commissioned this painting from the artist, who counted her cousin John Wolfe among his most important patrons. The Storm was exhibited at the Salon of 1880 and attracted widespread attention.

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe (1828–1887) was related to the Bartows through Maria Lorillard Bartow. She also attended the Boltons’ school for young ladies at the Pelham Priory. Miss Wolfe had an enormous fortune and was a great collector and patron of the arts. She was especially interested in nineteenth-century European paintings, and French works in particular, many of which she commissioned directly from the artists. Although today some of the painters she championed have been relegated to the sidelines, many were extremely popular at the time. She bequeathed about 150 pictures to the Metropolitan Museum of Art upon her death.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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