|Terms and Methods
The caption includes six lines of informationthe artist's name, the places and dates of the artist's birth and death, the title and date of the painting, the medium and support, the dimensions, and the credit line. The artist of a painting may be assumed to be firmly established unless otherwise indicated in the caption and the analysis section. Artists' identities have been determined by various combinations of signatures, documents, and the painting's stylistic and technical similarity to other works by that artist. Approximate dates are signified by the word about. Dates of the type 1747/8" are precise dates and reflect the transition between the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar, which the British government officially adopted in 1751. The most important impact of this change is that the beginning of the year was moved from March 25 to January 1. As a consequence, the days between the first of January and late March fell in different years, which were commonly reported with a slash separating the old style from the new style.
Portrait titles were standardized for this catalogue. Men are presented with their first and last names; their military rank is given if they were generally known by such a title when the portrait was painted. Women are listed with their first name, family name, and married name, followed parenthetically by the title "Mrs." and their husband's name. For instance, Copley's portrait of Lucretia Murray is entitled Lucretia Chandler Murray (Mrs. John Murray). If a female sitter was unmarried when the portrait was painted, her married name is omitted from the first half of the title; thus, Blackburn's portrait of the teenaged Hannah Babcock who later married John Bours is called Hannah Babcock (Mrs. John Bours). Alternate titles for paintings are listed in the endnotes, along with the first publication in which each title appeared.
The medium and primary support are reported next. The dimensions are given in inches and centimeters, with height stated before width. The credit line provides the means by which the painting entered the collection and its accession number.
Under the heading Inscriptions are listed the signatures, inscribed dates, and other period markings that appear on the front or back of the canvas, the stretcher, or the frame. Exhibition labels and other later markings are not reported. This section is omitted from entries relating to paintings that have no period inscriptions.
The provenance for each painting is reported as fully as possible. Notes to this section document the sources upon which these histories of ownership were based. The owners in a complete provenance are separated by semicolons; a period is used to signify that one or more additional but unknown people possessed a work between two of its known owners.
References are given for every publication of a work that could be confirmed. Short citations are given within the catalogue entry; full citations are provided in the bibliography. Every exhibition of a painting that could be confirmed is also listed, along with its number in the exhibition catalogue.
Technical and frame notes were prepared by paintings conservator Philip Klausmeyer. Each painting was unframed and examined in the conservation laboratory at the museum using visible light and ultraviolet light. Each work was also examined under a stereomicroscope and with a Hamamatsu C1000 infrared vidicon. When the vidicon revealed an underdrawing or a significant compositional change, a reflectogram of that area of the painting was captured digitally using Adobe Photoshop software. X-radiographs existed for most of the early American paintings in the collection; of the new x-radiographs taken, only those of the portraits of John and Elizabeth Freake are reproduced in this catalogue. These new x-rays were assembled into a mosaic using Adobe Photoshop.
Technical notes begin with the support, then proceed to the ground layer, design layers, and surface coating. Materials and techniques are reported at each level, followed by an assessment of the work's condition at that level. Unless otherwise indicated, tears and other losses may be assumed to have been filled, canvases lined, and tacking edges removed. Cusping is reported to suggest that the dimensions of the canvas are probably original. In the case of panel supports, the wood was identified with microscopic analysis of the cell structure. Ground layers that were applied by the artist are distinguished from those that are thought to have been commercially prepared. The technical reports also convey the artist's working methods, including the order in which a painting appears to have been developed; whether the artist used thin, transparent glazes or thicker, opaque applications of paint; and where he painted wet-on-dry versus wet-on-wet.
Frame notes are included only if the frame is original to the painting or of the same period as the painting and therefore possibly original. Descriptions of frame construction note such aspects as the type of joinery and whether period nails are visible. The ornament of each frame is discussed next and proceeds from the sight edge to the outer edge and finally to the back panel. Designs that are carved in the main elements of the frame's molding are distinguished from those that are applied. The color of the bole beneath the gilding is noted. Original hardware is also indicated. In rare instances, the maker of the frame is identified by a label, a stamp, or a document.
Research for the catalogue entriesa three-year endeavorentailed reading every known publication pertaining to each painting, seeking the primary and secondary sources on each artist, pursuing the personal papers and probate records of the patrons and subsequent owners of the paintings, examining each work closely, and studying related works. Laura K. Mills conducted the bulk of the new research and built upon the work of previous curators of the American collectionLouisa Dresser, Dagmar Reutlinger, and Susan Strickler. The results were then compiled into entries consisting of three sectionsdescription, biography, and analysis.
The description of each painting is given to enlarge upon what can be seen in its reproduction. Biographies of the portrait sitters provide a context for understanding the social position of each artist's patron base and offer clues for interpreting the elements of the painting. In the case of landscapes and history paintings, the personal history of the patron often suggests the reasons why a work was created. When the sitter or original buyer is unknown, the biography section is omitted. The analysis places the work in the context of the artist's career and interprets its composition and iconography. Problematic or new attributions to an artist are discussed at length, as are disputed or new dates for a painting. Sources, pendants, later portraits of a sitter, and other related works are presented in relation to the subject of the catalogue entry. When a commission was documented by contemporary correspondence or entries in an account book, that evidence is also presented.
In general, the authors have striven to write expansively and comprehensively but acknowledge that the paintings presented in this catalogue invite further investigation. We look forward to new interpretations of the works that might expand on or even contradict our findings.
David R. Brigham, Curator of American Art