Wednesday, April 29, 2020
François Fleischbein (1804–1868) was a German painter who lived and worked in New Orleans. Better known as François in the U.S., Franz was born in Godramstein, Bavaria. Although often confused with a naïve artist, he was academically trained, having studied with Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (1767-1824) at the École des beaux-arts in Paris. In 1833, Fleischbein immigrated to New Orleans with his wife, Marie Louise Tetu (1802-1895), and four children. He remained in Louisiana until his death. Jean Joseph Vaudechamp (1790 - 1866) first encouraged Fleischbein to visit. Although born Franz Joseph, Fleischbein decided to change his name to François in order to fit with his Creole clients of Gallic descent.
Fleischbein style fused French neoclassicism with German Biedermeier emphasis on pattern. As result, his paintings appear mannered, with schematic drawing, suppressed transitions of light and shade, and odd anatomical distortions. Patrons appreciated his paintings, and Fleischbein advertized that the "greatest correctness of drawing and painting is guaranteed, as well as the likeness of Portraits." His paintings show a French academic style as well as a sweetness and charm common to 19th Century German painting. With the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839, Fleischbein also worked as an early photographer, an enterprise in which his wife took part.
Monday, April 27, 2020
Several New England artists shared a unique painting style during the 1820s-30s. Women depicted by these artists exhibit several similar characteristics - pale, sculptural faces; prominent thin, delicately arched eyebrows; small bowed mouths; & elaborate classical Greek hairstyles of tight curls intertwined with jewelry, flowers, & other adornments. The paintings are usually watercolors. The artists paint strong features, sharply defined, with arched, curved eyebrows. The watercolors are similar to fashion plates appearing in magazines such as Ackerman’s Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions & Politics, published in London in 1809 through 1829.
Saturday, April 25, 2020
During the 19th century, Marie Leveau (d. 1881), a devoted Catholic known as the Voodoo Queen, was generally a feared figure in New Orleans. Though apparently adept with Voodoo charms & potions of all kinds, Marie's real power came from her extensive network of spies & informants. The New Orleans elite had the careless habit of detailing their most confidential affairs to their slaves & servants, who then often reported to Marie out of respect & fear. As a result, Marie appeared to have an almost amazing knowledge of the workings of political & social power in New Orleans, which she used to build her power as a voodoo priestess.
In the above portrait of Marie Laveaux of New Orleans, Marie was depicted wearing a tignon. A tignon is a series of headscarves or a large piece of material tied or wrapped around the head to form a kind of turban resembling a West African gélé.
A New Orleans journalist reported on a "voodoo rite" that he witnessed in 1828. "Some sixty people were assembled, each wearing a white bandana carefully knotted around the head..." At a given moment in the ceremony, one of the women "tore the white hand- kerchief from her forehead. This was a signal, for the whole assembly sprang forward and entered the dance"
The tignon was the mandatory headwear for Creole women in Louisiana during the Spanish colonial period, and the style was adopted throughout the Caribbean island communities as well. This headdress was required by Louisiana laws in 1785. Called the tignon laws, they prescribed appropriate public dress for females of color in colonial society, where some women of color & some white women tried to outdo each other in beauty, dress, ostentation and manners.
In an effort to maintain class distinctions in his Spanish colony at the beginning of his term, Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miró (1785 - 1791) decreed that women of color, slave or free, should cover their heads with a knotted headdress and refrain from "excessive attention to dress." In 1786, while Louisiana was a Spanish colony, the governor forbade: "females of color ... to wear plumes or jewelry"; this law specifically required "their hair bound in a kerchief." But the women, who were targets of this decree, were inventive & imaginative with years of practice. They decorated their mandated tignons, made of the finest textiles, with jewels, ribbons, & feathers to once again outshine their white counterparts.
Extramarital relationships between French & African settlers, occuring since slaves arrived in New Orleans about 1719, had evolved into an accepted social practice. The custom of freeing the children of such unions; the right of slaves to purchase their freedom; the policy of liberating enslaved workers for excellent service; and the arrival of free people of color from Haiti, Cuba & other Caribbean colonies led to the rise of a vocal free black population.
Through inheritance, military service, and a near monopoly of certain skilled trades, free blacks acquired wealth & social status. By the time Thomas Jefferson arranged for the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, New Orleans free blacks constituted nearly 20% of the city, while enslaved Africans comprised about 38% of the residents. Women of color, slave & free, continued to wear their bright tignons well into the 19th century, and they continued to attract the attention of men regardless of class or color.
1786 Francois Beaucourt, Portrait of Servant Woman.
Throughout the 19C, tignon was a local, New Orleans word for the headwrap, a variation on the French word, chignon which refers to a smooth knot or twist or arrangement of hair that is worn at the nape of the neck.
1796 Thomas Rowlandson. Rachel Pringle of Barbados. Published by William Holland (London, 1796)
Elsewhere in America, headwraps were often referred to as kerchiefs by both African Americans & others.
Women of Santo Domingo in Tignons.
The anonymous Mississippi planter who wrote "Management of Negroes Upon Southern Estates" (1851) noted: "I give to my negroes four full suits of clothes with two pairs of shoes, every year, & to my women and girls a calico dress and two handkerchiefs extra"
Woman Wearing Red Tignon with Bag of Laundry.
In 1863, E. Botume described the people who greeted her boat as it docked at Beaufort, SC, "Some of the women had...bits of sailcloth for head handkerchiefs"
19th Century Tignon Wearing Women of Color.
Charlie Hudson, born in 1858, & enslaved in Georgia, remembered: "What yo' wore on yo' haid was a cap made out of scraps of cloth dey wove in de loom..."
Woman in Tignon Selling Fruits & Vegetables.
Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, a northerner who traveled in the South before the American Civil War, tells of yet another way in which blacks acquired headwraps: "(The negroes) also purchase clothing for themselves, and, I note especially, are well supplied with handkerchiefs, which the men frequently, and the women nearly always, wear on their heads"
19th Century Mulatto Women and Tignons.
A Savannah editor bemoaned the "extravagant" dress of city blacks. Wade says that the journalist, " observing that a turban or handkerchief for the head was good enough for peasants,...noted that 'with our city colored population the old fashioned turban seems fast disappearing' " (Savannah Republican 6 June 1849)
19th Century Caribbean Island Women in Tignons.
Louis Hughes, born 1843, enslaved in Mississippi and Virginia, noted: "The cotton clothes worn by both men and women (house servants), and the turbans of the latter, were snowy white" After the family moved to the city, Hughes recalled, "Each of the women servants wore a new gay colored turban, which was tied differently from that of the ordinary servant, in some fancy knot"
19th Century New Orleans Tignon
In the Slave Narratives, Ebenezer Brown, enslaved in Mississippi, said: "(My mammy) wrap her hair, and tie it up in a cloth. My mammy cud tote a bucket of water on her head and never spill a drop. I seed her bring that milk in great big buckets from de pen on her head an' never lose one drop."
19th Century Portrait. Historic New Orleans
John Dixon Long, a white observer, remarked on a prayer-meeting held by enslaved people in Maryland in 1857. "At a given signal...the women will tighten their turbans, and the company will then form a circle around the singer..."
1840 House Servant with Tignon. Louisiana
Louis Hughes, born 1832, enslaved in Mississippi and Virginia, remembered "once when Boss went to Memphis and brought back a bolt of gingham for turbans for the female slaves...red & yellow check...to be worn on Sundays"
1844 Adoph Rinck. Possibly a portrait of Marie Laveaux.
In 1863, Fanny Kemble's description of the slaves on her husband's Georgia plantation included: "head handkerchiefs, that put one's very eyes out from a mile off..."
1910 Black Woman in Tignon, Ellsworth Woodward Louisiana
Thursday, April 23, 2020
In the first half of the 19C, before photography made it possible to have inexpensive true likenesses, portrait painters worked in most urban cities & often traveled from small town to small town, memorializing their clients for future generations.
Born in Bath, Maine, William Matthew Prior became an itinerant portrait & landscape painter who also painted on glass. By 1824, he had traveled to Portland, Maine, and lived there from 1831 to 1840. Prior was a most practical portrait painter, he would adjust his fees in accordance with what his sitters could pay. He advertised in the "Maine Inquirer" in 1831 that "persons who wished a flat picture can have a likeness without shade or shadow at one-quarter price"
William Matthew Prior (American artist, 1806-1873) Mrs. Nancy Lawson, wife of a Boston clothing merchant. 1843 (Prior-Hamblin School)
His son, Matthew Prior gave the following account of his father:
"My father--yes--my father was thought a great deal of. He used to start out early in the he morning and always found plenty of work to do. It seems he was an independent young man, full of ambition, and he worked his way up in the scales so fast that in his early twenties he painted a portrait of A. Hammett, Esp. It was exhibited at the Boston Anthenæum in 1831. When he was a small boy he painted the portrait of a neighbor on the barn door, which created quite an excitement in the village. yes, he heard considerable about it. Young as he was, he made up his mind then and there to become an artist, and when he was old enough he took up the trade of the itinerant portrait painter, walking along the dusty roads with a pack on his back...
"Father was always an itinerant portrait painter, but now he acquired a horse and wagon, and accompanied by his wife he would start out with the back of the wagon full of canvases, and in this way he journeyed far afield throughout this state and other states as well, where, to this day, you may run across his paintings. When his two children grew out of babyhood, he carried them along with him, which made quite a family party, so it must have been quite a circumstance to put them all up for the purpose of getting a portrait painted. it was the habit of the day to give these artists food and lodging, which was included in the price of the portrait."
Prior executed some of the 19th century’s most respectful portraits of free men & women of color, suggesting that he may have held abolitionist sympathies or beliefs, which was fairly common in New England. Prior's portrayal of free blacks elicit the same seriousness & respect as his white clients. Prior avoids the caricature sometimes seen in others depictions of African-Americans.
William Matthew Prior (American artist, 1806-1873) Three Sisters of the Copeland Family 1854 (Prior-Hamblin School)
Prior was born into a seafaring family in Bath, Maine. His father, Matthew, & brother, Barker, were both lost at sea in 1815. Prior decided not to go to sea & trained to become an ornamental painter. Advertisements in the Maine Inquirer from 1827 through 1831, detail the types of projects he undertook during this period, from re-japanning tea trays and tin waiters in a “tasty style” to restoring oil portraits. By 1823, however, he was primarily painting portraits.
William Matthew Prior (American artist, 1806-1873) The Burnish Sisters 1854 (Prior-Hamblin School)
In an effort to solicit more business, Prior put this notice in his local Portland newspaper on February 28, 1828, which declared: "Portrait painter, Wm. M. Prior, offers his services to the public. Those who wish for a likeness at a reasonable price are invited to call soon. Side views and profiles of children at reduced prices." Apparently people took him up on his offer. His entrepreneurial approach made painted portraits available to a wider range of clients.
William Matthew Prior (American artist, 1806-1873) or Sturtevant J. Hamblin (American artist, 1817-1884) Mary Cary and Susan Elizabeth Johnson, 1848 (Prior-Hamblin School)
A label attached to the back of Prior’s portrait Nat Todd, painted about 1848, announced: “PORTRAITS /PAINTED IN THIS STYLE!/Done in about an hour’s sitting./Price 2,92 including Frame, Glass, & c./ Please call at Trenton Street/East Boston/WM. M. PRIOR.”
In 1828, Prior married Rosamond Clark Hamblin uniting him with a large family of painters & glaizers with whose fortunes & movements he became intetwined. Today there is often confusion in trying to distinguish among unsigned portraits produced by William Matthew Prior, his in-laws Sturtevant J. Hamblin (active 1837–1856); George G.Hartwell (1815–1901); & William W. Kennedy. E. W. Blake was also associated with this group. The works by these interrelated artists are sometimes refered to as the Prior-Hamblin School. Sometime between 1831 & 1834, Prior moved with his growing family to Portland, Maine, where he began a pattern of living with or near his Hamblin relatives. By 1841, the Prior and Hamblin families had moved together to Boston, where they lived in the home of Nathaniel Hamblin.
William Matthew Prior (American artist, 1806-1873) Two Children with Dog Minny on a Ribbon 1840 (Prior-Hamblin School)
By 1846, the Priors & their large family were living in their own home at 36 Trenton Street, which Prior dubbed the “Painting Garret.” The number of portraits surviving from this period attest to Prior’s popularity despite the advent of photography. He continued to travel throughout New England and as far south as Baltimore, Maryland, in search of commissions, sometimes accompanied by his sons.
William Matthew Prior (American artist, 1806-1873) Issac Josiah and William Mulford Hand (Prior-Hamblin School)
As early as 1838, Prior had offered posthumous portraiture, but during the 1850s & 1860s he advertised this practice, but now using the “spirit effect,” a gift he claimed he had received after his conversion to Millerism. In 1840, Prior probably saw Adventist leader William Miller preach during a major convocation in Casco, Maine. He & his brother-in-law Joseph G. Hamblin became zealous converts; and Prior wrote at least two books on Miller, even after the evangelist's predictions failed to occur. In his books, Prior explained, that his visionary beliefs enabled him to paint posthumous portraits “by spirit effect.”
William Matthew Prior (American artist, 1806-1873) (Prior-Hamblin School)
During the 1850s that Prior began to paint “fancy” pictures of Mount Vernon & Washington’s tomb, ice skaters on ponds, romantic landscapes, & moonlit scenes. He also applied his earlier experience of reverse painting on glass clock dials to create portraits in verre églomisé of George & Martha Washington, Abraham Lincoln, a& other historical figures.
The paintings I am posting here have been attributed to William Matthew Prior but may have been painted by some of his in-laws or others. I am surely not positive. Anyway, just relax and enjoy.
William Matthew Prior (American artist, 1806-1873) (Prior-Hamblin School)
William Matthew Prior (American artist, 1806-1873) John Thayer 1848 (Prior-Hamblin School)
William Matthew Prior (American artist, 1806-1873) Miss Jones with Her Dog and Cat 1846 (Prior-Hamblin School)
Hickman, Madelia & Pratt, Wayne, The 'Celebrated' William Matthew Prior (1806-1873), Antiques & Fine Art Magazine
Krashes, David, Understanding the Prior-Hamblen School of Artists A Little Bit Better, Maine Antique Digest, July, 2011
Rumford, Beatrix T. American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. New York Graphic Society, 1981. 176-81.
Sears, Clara Endicott, Some American Primitives: A Study of New England Faces and Folk Portraits, Kennikat Press, Inc., Port Washington, N.Y., 1941. 31-50.