Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Eleanor Magruder Briscoe (1766-1806) by John Drinker (1760-1826) 1800-02


Eleanor Magruder Briscoe by John Drinker, in Jefferson County West Virginia 1800-02 

When Eleanor Magruder Briscoe was born on January 6, 1766, in Maryland, her father, Alexander, was 46, and her mother, Susannah, was 39. She married John Briscoe on February 19, 1784, in Frederick, Maryland. They had 11 children in 16 years. She died on March 11, 1806, in Virginia at the age of 40.

MESDA tells us that this portrait of Eleanor Magruder Briscoe by John Drinker shows a woman seated in a Chippendale type chair, half-length, facing forward & dressed with a white high crowned cap, gray dress & white neck piece with a black ribbon & jewel at her throat. She has brown eyes, dark hair. She holds a reddish-brown book in her right hand & is seated at a column base to the right, with red drapery & tassel, & with a balustraded rail & trees in the background to the left. 

Eleanor (Magruder) Briscoe (1766-1806) & her husband Dr. John Briscoe (1752-1818) lived at Piedmont, an imposing two-story brick house in Jefferson County, West Virginia, near Charlestown. The families had 17th century roots in tidewater Maryland: The Briscoes in St. Mary’s & Charles County, Maryland; the Magruders in Queen Anne County, Maryland. The couple married in 1784 in Frederick County, Maryland. 

The portrait descended at Piedmont, the Briscoe Family home, in Berkeley County, Virginia. Two years later they formally acquired the land on which Piedmont was built. Though the deed to the house is dated November 22, 1786, it is generally believed that the Briscoe family were living on the property for some years prior to that time. It is now generally thought that Piedmont was constructed between 1786 & 1800. (Piedmont was surveyed in 1937 by the Historic American Buildings Survey:
http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hh/item/wv0088/ Piedmont was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973: http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/jefferson/73001913.pdf)

The artist John Drinker (1760–1826) was a miniaturist, portrait painter, & drawing master, who advertised in 1787 that he was opening a drawing school in Philadelphia with the assistance of Matthew Pratt. Using funds from an inheritance Drinker began investing in Berkeley County, Virginia, land in the 1780s. In 1797 he married Elizabeth Peppers in Berkeley County, West Virginia. Though the couple first lived in Philadelphia, by 1801 they had permanently resettled in Berkeley County. This painting is signed on the reverse “A.D. 1800/ by Drinker.” . He was listed as a portrait painter or limner in Philadelphia directories in 1800-1801. Two portraits by him are listed by FARL (Frick Art Reference Library)

The MESDA Collection includes 5 paintings from “Piedmont," the house built between 1786-1890 for Dr. John Briscoe, Jr. (1752-1818), & Eleanor (Magruder) Briscoe (b.1766). These include portraits of Dr. & Mrs. Briscoe by John Drinker (1760-1826) (MESDA acc. 973.1-2); a portrait of Sarah D. Rutherford by Drinker (MESDA acc. 973.3?); & a portrait of General William Darke (1736-1801), by Frederick Kemmelmeyer (1760-1821) (MESDA acc. 973.3).

See: Kate Hughes, “Piedmont’s Portraits: Patrician Image-Making in the Lower Shenandoah Valley”, MESDA Summer Institute 2017.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

1716 Frances L’Escott (1705-1747) by Henrietta Johnston(c 1674-1729)

1716 Frances L’Escott (1705-1747) by Henrietta Johnston(c 1674-1729)

MESDA tells us that Frances L’Escott (1705-1747) was the daughter of the Reverend Paul L’Escott (b.1675), pastor of the Huguenot Church in Charles Town from 1700 to 1719 & from 1731 to 1734. She married Peter Villepontoux (1684-1748), a wealthy Huguenot. He owned a plantation on James Island; a town lot near the Quaker Meeting House on King Street; a lot on Trott’s Point; & a plantation in Christ Church Parish. The couple had seven children though only one daughter & four sons are mentioned in Peter Villepontoux’s will; there is no mention of his wife Frances, & it is believed that her death preceded his. She was living, however, in 1741, when she & her husband signed deeds of lease & release for property.

There is an anecdote about young Frances L’Escott in The Carolina Chronicle of Commissary Gideon Johnston in his letter to the secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. His letter, dated July 5, 1710, reads: “One of the enclosed papers is a letter of Sir John Chardins to Mrs. L’Escot. . . .You will see by it that a Legacy of 30 [pounds] was left to her daughter, which was to revert to the Mother in case of the Daughters death. The Daughter is still alive & the father & Mother think it their undoubted right to have this money & the Interest of it hitherto.” The letter does not state whether the parents received control of the legacy. It does, however, mention that Mr. L’Escot could not understand English so that any other correspondence to him must be done in “Latin or French.”

Henrietta de Beaulieu Dering Johnston (ca. 1674 – March 9, 1729) is recognized as the earliest professional female artist & the first known pastelist working in the American colonies. The daughter of Susannah de Beaulieu, it is generally accepted that she was born in northwestern France & that her family immigrated to London in the mid-1680s. Henrietta was of French Huguenot descent.

In 1694 Henrietta Beaulieu married William Dering, & moved to Ireland. It was during this time that she began to draw pastels, as is evidenced by her earliest portraits of a number of people to whom she was related by marriage, including members of the Percival family. Although the quality of her work suggests that she had received formal training, nothing is known of her education. Like her contemporaries, however, she copied the conventions set by London court painter Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723). It is possible that she studied with Dublin artist Edward Lutterel (1650-1710).

Widowed by 1704, & the mother of two daughters, Henrietta married in 1705 Anglican clergyman Gideon Johnston who was appointed two years later to serve as commissary of the Church of England in North & South Carolina & the Bahama Islands & to serve as rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina. The Johnstons arrived in Charleston in 1708, & over the next few years Henrietta’s work as a pastel portraitist became critical to the economy of her family as is proven by one of her husband’s letters, in which he wrote: “were it not for the assistance my wife gives by drawing of Pictures (which can last but a little time in a place so ill peopled) I should not be able to live.” Gideon Johnston died in a boating accident in 1716 & Henrietta remained in Charleston until her death in 1729. She is believed to have traveled to New York City in1725 where she drew at least four portraits of a family of that city. More than forty of her portraits survive, many of which are of members of Charleston’s early Huguenot community.