|Samuel Lovett Waldo
Electa Barrell Wilder (Mrs. Sampson Wilder),
The sitter wears a long-sleeve, rose-colored dress with a three-layered, cape-like collar that covers the shoulders. The dress is decorated with ribbons at the bodice and wrist; the collar and sleeve are trimmed with velvet that matches the color of the dress. At her neck, Mrs. Wilder wears a white, three-tiered ruff with an abstracted floral design that is comprised of an oval center and eight petals. Her sleeves are trimmed in white cuffs. A white shawl with a lavish border of yellow, orange, and red flowers, and green foliage is draped over the chair in which the sitter is posed; the shawl has fringe along its edge.
Mrs. Wilder sits in an armchair with a tan, upholstered armrest. The chair is decorated with classicized, foliate carving on the vertical element of the armrest. The sitters proper right arm bends at the elbow and her forearm rests on the arm of the chair. Her fingertips curl slightly under and are thereby cast into shadow by the light that falls from the upper left to the lower right. That light produces a shadow of the figure on the wall at lower right. There are also shadows under the ruff and collar of the dress, under the arm on the armrest and on the womans lap, and throughout the folds of the textiles. The olive-colored background is darker at the left side of the composition and lighter to the right of the figure.
In 1823, the Wilders returned permanently from Europe and settled in Bolton. Upon their arrival in New York, Stephen Salisbury II (17981884)the Worcester businessman and father of the founder of the Worcester Art Museumwrote of the Wilders:
Two of Salisburys cousins, who were the daughters of Stephens paternal uncle Samuel Salisbury, had married Sampson Wilders business partners Stephen Higginson and John Tappan.
In 1824, the Wilders entertained the Marquis de Lafayette during his famous tour of the United States in honor of his contribution to the American Revolution.4 In 1830, they moved to Brooklyn and then New York City, where Sampson Wilder continued his work in international business. Following the collapse of the Bank of the United Statesfor which Sampson was an agentand the Depression of 1838, the Wilders fortune was depleted. In 1852, they moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey, where their daughter Francina Haines had settled with her family. Electas husband died in 1865, and she died in Elizabeth on January 4, 1878. She was remembered in her obituary as follows:
Sampson Wilder had founded the Bible Society in 1819 and was active in other evangelical Christian organizations; Electa clearly shared his beliefs.
Waldo had at least three opportunities to paint Mrs. Wilder in New York: in 1817, 1823, or 1830 and after.8 The Wilders were married in 1817, an occasion which might have prompted a portrait sitting. However, a miniature painted of Mrs. Wilder in 1819 in Paris clearly represents her younger than she appears in Waldos portrait. The Wilders returned permanently from Paris in 1823 and spent time in New York City, providing a second possible time for the portrait, before settling at their estate in Massachusetts. Finally, they moved to Brooklyn in 1830, so Mrs. Wilder could also have posed for this portrait any time thereafter.
Mrs. Wilders hair and costume support the middle of these three dates for the portrait, about 1823. As the wife of a textile merchant in France, she probably was attuned to the latest fashions in Paris. Hairstyles with braids pinned up and tight curls framing the face were popular there in the early 1820s. High-waisted dresses with cape-like collars can also be found in Paris fashion plates of the same period. The shawl that is draped over Mrs. Wilders chairwhich might have been a studio prop just as easily as the sitters possessionis of a type that became common in French fashion in the 1810s but remained popular in the 1820s.9
Further supporting the proposed date for the portrait is the fact that in 1824 Electas brother Joseph Barrell III (18001829) and his wife Mary Augusta Barrell (d. 1824) sat for their portraits to Waldo (both private collection). It is possible that Electa, Joseph, and Mary Barrell commissioned their portraits at about the same time. Another clue is offered by the frame of Electas portrait, which has a label that identifies its maker as Butler and Steen at 161 Fulton Street in New York. In 1816, the New York city directory lists the two men in partnership at a looking-glass store, but not at the address given on the label. John Steen is listed at a looking-glass store at the Fulton Street address from 1817 to 1827, but both John and Joseph Butler are at different addresses. John A. Butler is listed as a carver and gilder and Joseph T. Butler as a gilder.10 Further research is required to determine when Butler and Steen worked together at the Fulton Street address.
2. Dwight 1966, 22.
3. Stephen Salisbury II, New York, to Stephen Salisbury I and Elizabeth Salisbury, Worcester, Mass., July 28, 1823, Salisbury Family Papers, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, box 21, folder 2.
4. Massachusetts Spy or Worcester Advertiser, September 8, 1824.
5. Electas obituary is from an unidentified newspaper clipping found inside the familys copy of Haines 1865. A photocopy of this obituary is in the object file, Worcester Art Museum.
6. For an image of Mrs. Griffins portrait, see New-York Historical Society 1974, I, 309, no. 797.
7. Strickler 198182a, 41.
8. For more information about Mrs. Wilders movements, see the biography section to this catalogue entry.
9. The analysis of Mrs. Wilders hair and dress is based on images supplied by Deirdre Donohue, librarian at the Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in a letter to Laura K. Mills, February 12, 1999. We have also benefited from the knowledge of costume historians Lynne Bassett, Phyllis Mount, and Patricia Warner.
10. See, for example, Andrew Beers, Longworths New-York Almanac, for the Year of Our Lord 181617. New York: Published by D. Longworth, 1816, 145, 401; and [David Longworth], Longworths American Almanac, New-York Register, and City Directory, New York: Longworth, 1817, 136, 397.