Monday, June 6, 2011

The Lost Portraits of Mrs. Benjamin Gratz: Have You Seen Maria?

Photo of a "crayon" copy of the portrait of Mrs. Benjamin Gratz (Maria
Cecil Gist) by Thomas Sully, Philadelphia, 1831. Courtesy of the Rosenbach
Museum & Library. From the bequest of Mrs. Anderson Gratz, 1984.

Just as Rebecca Gratz was having her portrait painted by Thomas Sully in December of 1830, her brother and sister-in-law Benjamin and Maria Gratz arrived from their home in Lexington, KY, for a long visit in Philadelphia.

Sully's portrait must have been deemed successful because the family decided that he should paint portraits of Ben and Maria for the Philadelphia Gratz's. In April 1831, he produced them and, at Maria's request, then painted another portrait of Rebecca to go back to Kentucky.

Three of these four paintings reside today at the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia:
Sully's first portrait of Rebecca, his portrait of Benjamin and his second painting of Rebecca, all given by or acquired from Gratz descendants. But no one knows what has become of Sully's portrait of Maria Cecil Gist Gratz, Ben's wife. Although a family member gave the Museum Matthew Jouett's portrait of Maria, done around the time of her marriage, it would certainly be nice to see her companion portrait by Sully beside that of her husband.

We are fortunate that among the materials which one Gratz descendant provided was the photograph, reproduced above, of a copy of the painting of Maria. This version is supposed to have been done in pastels, but the artist and date are unknown, as is its whereabouts.

We also know that Rebecca Gratz had the artist John Henry Brown make a miniature from Sully's original painting of Maria in 1844. The Rosenbach has a photograph of it in its collection, but Brown's portrait itself has also disappeared.

Although it is certainly possible that one of these likenesses might have been accidentally destroyed in the course of time, it seems unlikely that not a single one has survived. So look around, check the attic and friends' homes, visit your local museum. If you have seen one of these pictures of Maria, or own one of them, please contact Judith Guston, the curator at the Rosenbach, or me.

February 2012, update: For information on how two of these portraits were found, click here.

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