Depictions of Wythe

From Wythepedia: The George Wythe Encyclopedia
Revision as of 15:15, 4 April 2014 by Gwsweeney (talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search

"George Wythe, Nat. 1726—Ob. 1806." Engraving by Albert Rosenthal, Philadelphia, 1888. "From a print by W.S. Leney in the possession of Frederick D. Stone, Phila." Published in Hampton L. Carson's History of the Celebration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Promulgation of the Constitution of the United States, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1889), op. 227. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

In an 1806 letter to the painter, Charles Willson Peale (1741 – 1827), Thomas Jefferson laments that he only has a "shade in profile" of his friend and mentor, George Wythe, "whose portrait was never taken."[1] Jefferson sent Peale a copy of the profile, from which a portrait was made by "filling the out line of your late friend Judge Wythe. Whether you may find it equally striking as to likeness I cannot say, for my remembrance has not furnished me with any Idea's of the form of his features, therefore it is all guess work."[2] The current location of Peale's portrait of Wythe is unknown, and it was probably dispersed with Jefferson's estate after his death.

Despite what Jefferson tells us, there is a portrait identified as Wythe—in minature—in the collection of the R.W. Norton Art Gallery, in Shreveport, Louisiana, attributed to Henry Benbridge (1743 – 1812). It is a watercolor on ivory, 1½ inches tall × 1¼ wide, and depicts Wythe as a young man. A 1971 text on Benbridge published by the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery, states, however: "Since the history of this portrait does not go back beyond 1941, it is suspect. The technique is not characteristically Benbridge."[3] This does not necessarily mean it is not an authentic portrait of Wythe.

Silhouettes were a popular form of portraiture in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries. Wythe's profile in shadow (or "shade," as Jefferson describes it) was taken twice: once, in 1804, by William Bache (1771 – 1845); and another at an earlier time in Wythe's life. William DuVal describes the two profiles in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in December, 1806, after Wythe's death: "The profile you have, will shew his appearance at that period of his Life, and the one I have, will exhibit a strong likeness a few years before his untimely Death."[4] Only a copy of the Bache silhouette has survived to the present day, and appears in album in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery.

In addition to Bache's silhouette, there is a sketch by John Trumbull taken from life in 1791, for his large (18 feet × 12 feet) painting of the Declaration of Independence, which is in the United States Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C. Trumbull spent more than thirty years obtaining sketches of as many living signers of the Declaration he could find, and made several versions before the final painting was unveiled in 1818. In addition to the official painting, there is a smaller (38 × 21 inches) smaller study at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut, and another version (108 × 72 inches), also by Trumbull, at the Wadsworth Atheneum, in Hartford. All three paintings feature a portrait of Wythe at the far left of the scene.

Images of George Wythe

See also

  • [Jefferson to Charles Willson Peale, 22 November 1806], The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Series 1, General Correspondence, 1651-1827, Library of Congress.
  • [Charles Willson Peale to Jefferson, 13 December 1806], The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Series 1, General Correspondence, 1651-1827, Library of Congress.
  • Robert G. Stewart, Henry Benbridge (1743-1812): American Portrait Painter, (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1971), 81.
  • William DuVal to Jefferson, 21 November 1806, The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Series 1, General Correspondence, 1651-1827, Library of Congress.