Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Portrait of the Week - Seeing Double

Dearest Friends,
Our portrait of the week is actually two women presented in the same manner by the same artist and was perhaps married to to same man OR maybe the second portrait is not who it appears to be.  So I present to you an identity mystery to solve.

Portrait# 1

Mrs. John Lothrop nee Mary Jones by John Durand, National Gallery of Art c 1770
Mary Jones was born on December 12, 1743, daughter of Timothy Jones and Jane Harris.  She married John Lathrop in 1764 and died in 1773, after a "long and painful sickness" at the age of 30. Here is her obituary from the Connecticut Journal 5/21/1773.

Portrait #2

Mary Lathrop or Susannah Bontecou Lothrop c 1768-1770 by John Durand - Metropolitan Museum of Art

"Deja vu all over again!" The information on this second, almost identical, portrait is a little sketchy.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art has it listed as Susannah or Mary Bontecou.  Though according to Deborah Chotner, author of America Naive Paintings (National Gallery of Art), the woman in Portrait #1 is John Lathrop's first wife, Mary and Portrait #2, is Mary Bontecou Lathrop, John's second wife, who he had married by 1774 and John had her portrait painted in a similar style by the same artist.

In checking the Bontecou genealogy, there is a listing for a daughter (name and other information unknown) who was "married to a John Lothrop, cabinet maker".  And family lore has it that there was a portrait of her that was said to have been damaged in a raid by the British in 1779. Apparently later, family members fessed up that it was they who had damaged it -- they used to shoot arrows at it when it was stored in their attic. So is this that portrait of Daughter Bontecou who married John Lathrop?  And did poor bereaved John Lothrop really have his second wife painted by John Durand in the image of his first wife?

So the plot thickens.  I found an article written for Antiques and Fine Art Magazine by John Herdeg about a portrait he had purchased.  Long story short (read his article for details.) He hypothesizes that the portrait at the Met (Portrait #2) is actually Susannah Bontecou, the wife of Peter Bontecou (married 1762) rather than his sister who had married John Lothrop.  And Portrait #2 is the really mate to the portrait that Mr. Herdeg purchased, which he believes to be Peter Bontecou.

I'm with Mr Herdeg. Why would a husband have his new wife painted in the exact same manner as his late wife -- that's just creepy!  Unless he didn't actually commission Portrait #2 and it is the Bontecou's family's painting of their daughter that was shot with arrows by her male relatives. But if it is Lathrop's second wife, why was it passed down through the Bontecou family rather than the Lothrops as its provenance indicates?  I have to agree with Mr. Herdeg, it does look like a partner to the Peter Bontecou portrait. And if it's a marriage portrait of Peter & Susannah Bontecou (m. 1762) , it was done within two years of when the woman in Portrait #1, Mary Jones Lathrop, was married (m.1764).  

What do you think?

Next week we'll take a closer look at what they are wearing - in the meantime, perhaps we can solve this mystery.

Mrs S

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