Rediscovered Bingham Portraits: Julia George

One spring a few years ago, an auction house on the east coast advertised a George Caleb Bingham portrait for sale, Julia George.  Not listed in E. Maurice Bloch’s The Paintings of George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonné (University of Missouri Press, 1986), and with drab colors and a lifeless face, I questioned whether the artist of the sad young woman was actually Bingham. …

Robert W. Weir and Gulian C. Verplanck

Fine Art Investigations researches more than portraits.  One in-depth research project involved the artistry of Robert Walter Weir (1803-1889), who taught drawing at West Point for 42 years. Drawing was then a necessary skill for military officers, not only for creating maps or preserving exploratory discoveries in the age before cameras, but because a trained eye could make better field decisions.  Influential in …

The Mystery of Five Family Portraits: IV – Mary Elizabeth Lee & Robert F. Fleming

Introduction The last two family portraits in need of artist identification were Mary Elizabeth Lee (1827-1902) and her husband, whose middle name was the same as his last, Dr. Robert Fleming Fleming (1816-1871). Mary Elizabeth was a daughter the subject of the second portrait, Juliana Marian Prosser (1805-1886) and Colonel Richard Bland Lee II (1797-1875), a grandson of the subject of the first portrait, Henry Lee II. Subjects Mary …

The Mystery of Five Family Portraits: III – Lewis Penn Witherspoon Balch

Introduction The third of the five family portraits depicted Judge Lewis Penn Witherspoon Balch (1787-1868). His grandson would marry a granddaughter of Julia Anna Marion Prosser (Mrs. Richard Bland Lee II) (1805-1886). Subject Balch was born on July 31, 1787, in Georgetown, District of Columbia, son of Reverend Stephen Bloomer Balch (1747-1833), founder and leader of Georgetown Presbyterian Church. The elder Balch studied with John …

Recto and Verso: Lewis Penn Witherspoon Balch

The Legend When Lewis Penn Witherspoon Balch sat for his portrait in the studio of William Edward West (1788-1857) in Baltimore, Maryland around 1840, he was in his early 50s. According to a family biographer, six years earlier Balch had freed his 22 slaves and spent the equivalent of $40,000 to pay for their supplies and passage to Liberia.[1] Like …

The Mystery of Five Family Portraits: II – Woman in Red

Introduction 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. Date Portrait subjects, of course, wanted to look their best so, it almost …