Saturday, May 11, 2013

Frederick Spencer's Portraits of the Rogers Family

The Southampton Historical Museum has a collection of portraits by Frederick R. Spencer. The most striking is a portrait of a lovely girl wearing a rosebud at her breast. This portrait is of Mary Rogers (1839-1919) daughter of Captain Albert Rogers and Cordelia Halsey. Captain Rogers portrait hangs across the room from his daughter's portrait over the front room mantle in his former home. 
Portrait of Captain Albert Rogers (1807-1854) 
Painting by Frederick R. Spencer c1840
Captain Rogers made his fortune in the whaling industry. A ship is prominently painted in the background of his painting. There is also a small ship painted in the distant background of Mary's painting. In August of 1862, Mary wed Captain Samuel Mc Corkle, a Civil War Veteran. Mary and Samuel ended their days in Richland, Wisconsin
The portrait of Mary at the museum is dated 1850 due to the style of her dress. Does she look eleven years old? Spencer moved back upstate in 1853, so it was certainly painted before then.
Self Portrait of Frederick Randolph Spencer 1849
Oil on canvas 30" x 25"
"With an early interest in art, he studied with William Dunlap of Utica and at the age of 18 in 1825 went to New York City to study at the American Academy of the Fine Arts, returning after two years to Canastota to paint portraits. In 1831, he returned to New York City, and painted many of the city’s prominent citizens, gaining a reputation as an almost photographic portrait painter with a high degree of finish and vibrant colors. In 1853, he returned to upstate New York with his two young children, while his wife, Harriet, remained in New York City.  (Biographical notes on Spencer from here)
Genealogical information lists Mary as "Mary R. Rogers
I am wondering if her middle name is Rose.
Trying to find information on Frederick Spencer was rather like trying to find out who took the photo found in the shoebox in Grandma's closet. Most portrait painters of the time were no more famous than a studio photographer today. Paintings weren't signed on the front and often not on the reverse either. As unlabeled portraits were separated from their families, identities of both artist and subject were lost. Why was there no painting of Captain Roger's wife Cordelia? I find it hard to believe that he would have this beautiful painting of his daughter and not one of his wife. Was it lost over time? Given to another family member? While looking up portraits by Frederick Spencer, I found the "Lady in Black".
An unidentified "Lady in Black" c1853
by Frederick R. Spencer
I looked at the "Lady in Black" and wondered if she could possibly be Mary's mother Cordelia  It is probably my imagination, but I think there is a resemblance.
There have been a few articles in the news recently relating to the art of portraiture. 
"Picture, Picture on the Wall" WSJ and "300 Portraits of Power" NYTimes
What will happen to your family portraits - photos?

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