110 Stebbins St. Ashland, VA 23005 , United States Call Seller 703.299.0800

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Portrait of Reverend George Whitefield (1714-1770)

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  • Description
    Portrait of Reverend George Whitefield (1714-1770), by an unknown artist, 1768-1770. (PT2016006)

    Oil on copper, height 8” x width 6 ½”; framed height 18 ¾” x width 14 7/8”,

    Reverend Whitefield is caught mid-gesture, his strabismus preventing us from knowing e xactly whether he looks at the painter or into the distance, praying for God “to paint his blessed Imaged upon his … heart.” Popular in life, he was no less legendary in death, achieving the closest thing possible to “sainthood” for a Protestant context. His resting place in Newburyport, Massachusetts became a shrine for true believers, indeed a site of pilgrimage—and later of plunder, for those determined to have holy relics from his corpus.

    d Whitefield’s reputation for sweating and weeping as he preached, is reminiscent of the most energetic and charismatic TV ministers.

    Whitefield wrote about the phenomenon of representation, and an image now lost, in “A Further Account of God’s Dealing with the Reverend George Whitefield” published in 1747: “I was prevailed on to sit for my Picture, — The Occasion was this.—Some ill-minded person had painted me leaning on a Cushion, with a Bishop looking very enviously over my Shoulder.—At the Bottom were six Lines, in one of which the Bishops were styled Mitred Drones. – The same Person published in the Papers, that I had sat for it. – This I looked upon as a Snare of the Devil to incense the Clergy against me. I consulted Friends what to do. They told me I must sit for my Picture in my own Defence. – At the same time my aged Mother laid her Commands upon me to do so in a Letter, urging, “That is I would not let her have the Substance, “I would leave her at least the Shadow.” She also mentioned the Painter, and meeting with him one Night very accidentally, I at length with great Reluctance complied, and endeavoured, whilst the Painter was drawing my Face, to employ my Time, in beseeching the great God, by his holy Spirit, to paint his blessed Image upon his and my Heart.”

    Does this passage describe Whitefield while being painted by Wollaston? Would Reverend Whitefield choose to be painted in his best-known form, preaching? Or is he describing the making of the painting at left, which, with Wollaston’s view of Whitefield in the pulpit (above) comprise the earliest surviving life portraits of the evangelist. Carolyn J. Weekley suggests that Wollaston’s Whitefield commission “must have come to [him] through some personal contact, perhaps another university-connected clergyman who moved in the artist’s (or his father’s) circles.”

    As for Whitefield, it seems everybody moved in his circle—beyond the rapt crowds on both sides of the Atlantic, he was friendly with Benjamin Franklin, and in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he knew Samuel Haven and Samuel Langdon; in 1764, he reportedly told them in a private meeting “My heart bleeds for America. O poor New England! There is a deep laid plot against both your civil and religious liberties, and they will be lost….” On that tour, he preached to a crowd of 5,000 at Dr. Langdon’s Meeting House, after meeting with a welcoming committee of the selectmen of Portsmouth.

    In Boston, Whitfield was no less admired, or heard, than he was in Portsmouth: he delivered hundreds of sermons in the city, which he visited on his American tours beginning the 1740s until his death in 1770 just north of the city, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He was well known, and sometimes controversial, in the elite and educated circles of Boston and Cambridge, exciting the criticism of Dr. Wigglesworth of Harvard, but otherwise tolerated. Congregational minister Dr. Mather Byles’ son-in-law—and future father of artist Mather Brown—Gawen Brown heard all twenty-six of the sermons Reverend Whitefield delivered in 1754.

    MARKS AND INSCRIPTIONS:
    A 20th-century owner marked the reverse in black magic marker, which is removable with any number of solvents. A faint 19th-century pencil inscription on the reverse

    CONDITION:
    The painting survives in the original size, in a generally fine state of preservation, on a rolled copper plate with a deeply oxidized surface on the reverse. The painting has not been conserved in recent years, but spectrographic analysis of the surface by the Winterthur Conservation Lab reveals scattered inpainting, most prevalent on the proper right ear of the frizzle wig, and in the shadows of the vertical folds of the robe. The “Hogarth” frame is a modern reproduction by Perry Hopf of Kennebunk, Maine.
  • More Information
    In the Style of: The Holy Bible / Biblical
    Period: 18th Century
    Materials: Oil, Copper.
    Creation Date: 1714 - 1770
    Styles / Movements: Color
    Dealer Reference #: PT2016006
    Incollect Reference #: 334735
  • Dimensions
    W. 6.5 in; H. 8 in;
    W. 16.51 cm; H. 20.32 cm;
Message from Seller:

Sumpter Priddy III, Inc. maintains superb relationships with an active group of collectors, as well as private and public institutions. Among its clients are the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts; the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; the White House; the Maryland Historical Society; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and Historic Deerfield, Inc.

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