Friday, January 22, 2010

First Lady of Clermont?

During a painting survey last week, one of our experienced painting conservators peered through her goggles and mused, "I think this painting is a Duyckinck." My interest was piqued. I looked up the portrait.

For one, I have to admit that I was excited to finally here the name Duyckinck pronounced (it sounds like DIE-kink). I am still fairly new to all this Dutch scholarship in the Hudson Valley, and my pronounciations generally come out all mumble-y.

More interestingly, former curator at Clermont Ashley Hopkins-Benton has already speculated about the various possibilities another Clermont portrait by a member of the Duyckinck family. Perhaps this little painting was one to add to the catalogue of this important Dutch family of portraitists.

First things first. I had not previously paid a lot of attention to this small portrait in the corner of the dining room. The file on it describes it as an unconfirmed female subject by and unidentified artist. Thanks for the help.

But in the 1910 book The Livingstons of Livingston Manor (written in collaboration with John Henry Livingston), the author mentions that this "sweet faced lady" is thought by the family to be Margaret Howarden Livingston (1693- circa 1750). If so, that would make this a portrait of the wife of the builder of Clermont. We know of no other portrait of either her or her husband, which could make this the only surviving image of that generation.

A Huguenot descendant, Margaret married the younger "wild child" of Alida and Robert Livingston. Young Robert was a bit of spendthrift, who's own mother hinted at his exploits with the ladies. Yet he remained the family pet, and was given 13,000 acres of land inherritence, even though English law dictated that the entire 160,000 acres were supposed to be given to his elder brother (thanks to primogeniture). Once Robert settled down and began buying up large tracts of land in the Catskills, Margaret would have been able to look out the front door of her new house at Clermont in the 1740s and know that most everything she could see belonged to her husband.

Is this portait first Lady of Clermont? She certainly is a fashionable young woman. Portrayed in the style of deshabille (or undress), she is remensicent of some of the images of royalty that were coming out of Europe. That dashing state of being half-clothed in loosely-wrapped garments was very popular in the early 18th century.

And back to the possible attribution to Duyckinck--our conservator was not the first to make this connection. The 1986 exhibit catalogue A Portrait of Livingston Manor also suggests that it may have been Gerardus Duyckinck who painted the image.

The Duyckinck family were among the most popular limners in New Amersterdam (and later New York) during the early part of the 18th century. Gerardus, our Duyckinck in question, came from a long line of them in New Amsterdam and Holland.

According to art critics more skilled than I, it is the rendering of the nose and mouth that make our painting most likely by Gerardus. Comparing it with another of his female portraits shown at right, you can sort of get the idea (note that she is also shown en deshabille).

Identifying our portrait as a possible Duyckinck locates it within a tradition of early Dutch-American portrait art, interesting if you're a painting scholar, and especially fun since Clermont's dining room offers you a good timeline of American portrait art. It starts with the early 18th century image we've been discussing an progresses up through the 1920s with images of Janet, Honoria, and Alice Livingston.

Taking another look at the portrait also gives me a chance review one of the least-discussed generations of the Livingston family. There is a whole set of lives that I know so little about. My thanks go to our conservators for stopping me to take another look.

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