The second of five family portraits in search of an artist was Woman in Red. The owner thought the subject might be Elizabeth (Eliza) Collins Lee (1768-1858). The first step toward learning the name of the artist and the subject was to find the date the artist painted Woman in Red.
Portrait subjects, of course, wanted to look their best so, it almost goes without saying, that for sittings, they chose their most fashionable, attire.Fashion in the 19th century began with a simple neo-classical style that fit the republican and democratic spirit of both France and the United States. Narrow, vertical lines typified the style. Entering the second decade of the century, lines remained vertical, but simplicity yielded to ever increasing embellishments. By the third decade, fashions emphasized horizontal lines and were rife with superfluous decoration. With its simple verticality and elegant detailing the portrait of Woman in Red belongs in the second decade. Specifically, the sitter’s clothing most closely matches the fashion plates of 1824-1825, but in America, should be extended into 1826 due to transportation time from the place of publication, France.
With the date established as ca. 1826, it was highly unlikely that Woman in Red depicted Eliza Collins Lee. Born in 1768, she would have been 58 when the portrait was painted. From other information the owner provided, I pieced together her family tree. Only one woman fit the age of the portrait subject during the years 1824-1826: Julia Anna Maria Prosser (1805-1886). She would have been 19 – 21 years of age.
Not only did her age fit, but also the date of her marriage, November 23, 1826, to Richard Bland Lee II (1797-1875), a West Point graduate and grandson of Henry Lee II. Most of all, a photograph of Julia Anna from the 1860s resembled the younger woman with the same sweet expression, round face and steady gaze. Julia Anna Marion Prosser was the daughter-in-law of Eliza Collins (Mrs. Richard Bland Lee I).
Julia Anna Marion Prosser was born in Gloucester County, Virginia. She gave birth to the first of her twelve children at the family plantation, White Marsh. That child, Mary Elizabeth Lee (1827-1901), would become the subject of another of the five family portraits. Four more children were born in the South, but by the arrival of the sixth in 1836, Julia Anna had followed her husband to St. Louis, Missouri, a base of operations for his military explorations of the West and Southwest. At the onset of the Civil War, Colonel R. B. Lee was 64, but still a member of the United States Army. He resigned and joined the Confederacy where he served in Richmond, Virginia, helping supply food and equipment to confederate troops.
According to the owner, the portrait was painted in Philadelphia.
In Philadelphia in the mid-1820s, two artists commanded much of the market for portraits: Thomas Sully (1783-1852) and his friend Jacob Eichholtz (1776-1842). The Peale family of artists was also prominent, but their style is distinctive and not visible in Woman in Red. At first glance, I thought the artist was Eichholtz, whose work I had come to know well during the investigation of Elizabeth Ann Weed (Mrs. Robert J. Arundel). Eichholtz and Sully were colleagues who shared ideas and techniques. Sully, from a family of actors, possessed a dramatic flair that the more pragmatic Eichholtz did not. A Morellian Analysis of Woman in Red verified that Eichholtz was indeed the artist. But, when I looked carefully, I began to doubt my own opinion. Woman in Red appeared more anatomically correct, especially where the shoulder joined the arm. Woman in Red did not have the “look” I associate with Eichholtz, with eyes a little too close together, a nose that appears straight due to the line of the bridge and heavy shading on the far side, but which is actually slightly askew. As I examined the images again and again, I thought the face of Woman in Red was better wrought than those in the portrait examples with similar poses and within the time same time frame. Also, throughout the public record, Philadelphia was absent.
I looked at examples of the work of portrait artists near Julia Anna’s Virginia home: George Esten Cooke (1793 – 1849), John Wesley Jarvis (1780-1840), John Blennerhasset Martin (1797-1857), Edward Peticolas (1793-1853), and James Warrell (1780- before 1854). The pleasant, painterly styles of both Martin and Warrell, both almost forgotten today, differed from the style used in the wedding portrait of the bride of Richard Bland Lee II, Julia Anna. From other investigations, I was familiar with Cooke and Peticolas. Peripatetic and prolific, Cooke created honest, open faces such as Julia Anna’s but his brushwork was busier, perhaps reflecting his personality. Peticolas’ brush was gentler than that of either Cooke or the artist of Julia Anna. who painted the wedding portrait of the bride of Richard Bland Lee II. Jarvis was simply head and shoulders above all the other artists in talent and technique.
The painting’s owner confidently associated the family portrait with Philadelphia and I was now satisfied that the Julia Anna’s portrait was not painted in or near northeastern Virginia, so I re-examined the work of Eichholtz. I discovered that the cut of the neckline and sleeve of a sitter’s dress determined how well he could camouflage his lack of anatomical drawing skills. When his subjects wore gowns with wide necklines, he could not disguise his inability to draw a clavicle. But Julia Anna Marion Prosser chose a red velvet dress with square neckline and capped sleeves, a style befitting the cooler weather near her November wedding date. Eichholtz hid disjuncture at shoulder and arm under the sleeve. Especially in Eichholtz’s more complex — and expensive — portraits, his faces lost the “pinched” look. these observations resolved my doubts.
But why Philadelphia? The portrait subject first suggested, Elizabeth Collins (Mrs. Richard Bland Lee I), the mother of Julia Anna’s husband Richard Bland Lee was the daughter of Stephen Collins (1720-1800), one of Philadelphia’s “most successful merchants and financiers.” For generations, Philadelphia was central to the lives of her family and their descendants. A wedding trip to Philadelphia to visit the Collins family was possible, if not probable. The portrait may even have been a wedding gift.
In my opinion, Woman in Red is a portrait of Julia Ann Marion Prosser (Mrs. Richard Bland Lee II) painted by Jacob Eichholtz in 1826 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Vetting the attribution was the next step. Unfortunately, as the art world becomes ever more oriented to investment, threats of litigation increase and finding experts willing to give an unbiased opinion becomes ever more difficult. If a reader has reservations, or confirmations, about the attribution, please contact Fine Art Investigations.
The search for the artist of the third of five family portraits would prove to be especially interesting.
- Frederick Warren Alexander, “Stratford Hall and the Lees Connected with Its History: Sixth Generation,” Stratford Hall and the Lees Connected with Its History, Biographical, Genealogical, and Historical. Oak Grove. Virginia. The Historical Society of Virginia. 1912. Lee Family Digital Archives, http://leefamilyarchive.org/reference/books/alexander/index.html ; Elizabeth Fleming Rhodes, On the Fringe of Fame: The Career of Richard Bland Lee II in the South And West 1797–1875, (Pasadena, California: Self-published, 1990), on Lee Family Digital Archive, http://leefamilyarchive.org/papers/books/fringe/; Paul C. Nagel, The Lees of Virginia: Seven Generations of an American Family (Oxford University Press, 1990), 172.