LAWRENCE STEIGRAD FINE ARTS

Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

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AMMI PHILLIPS (Colebrook, Connecticut 1788 – Curtisville, East Bridgewater, Massachusetts 1865)

Portrait of Ebenezer Punderson, circa 1821

oil on canvas

32 x 27 1/2 inches       (81.28 x 69.85 cm.)


PROVENANCE

cf. Anonymous sale, Sotheby’s, New York, January 30 – February 2, 1980, lot 198, sold for $6,000 (version #3)

cf. Anonymous sale, Christie’s, New York, October 5, 2000, lot 24, sold for $25,850 (version #1)

 

EXHIBITED

cf. Hartford, Connecticut, The Connecticut Historical Society, A Centennial Exhibition of Paintings, November 1, 1965 – February 1, 1966, no. 120 (version #1)

cf. New York, New York, Museum of American Folk Art, Ammi Phillips, Portrait Painter 1788 – 1865, October 14 – December 1, 1968 and traveling to Albany, New York, Albany Institute of History and Art, December 9, 1968 – January 7, 1969, no. 69 (version #1)

 

LITERATURE

Barbara and Lawrence Holdridge, “Ammi Phillips” in Art in America, volume XLVIII, no. 2, Summer 1960, ff. p. 98 (version #1)

cf. Barbara and Lawrence Holdridge, “Ammi Phillips, 1788 – 1865” in The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin, Hartford, CT, volume 30, no. 4, October 1965, pp. 103, 116, 136, no. 120, illustrated (version #1)

cf. William Lamson Warren, “Ammi Phillips, A Critique”, in The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin, Hartford, CT, volume 31, no. 1, January 1966, no. 13 & no. 120 (version #1)

cf. Mary Black, Barbara C. and Lawrence B. Holdridge, Ammi Phillips, Portrait Painter, 1788 – 1865, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. Publisher, New York, 1968, The Museum of American Folk Art, pp. 14, 25, 47, no. 69, illustrated (version # 1)

Barbara and Larry Holdridge, “Ammi Phillips, limner extraordinary” in Portrait Painting in America, Main Street/Universe Books, New York, 1977, p. 117, (version #1)

Mary Black, Stacy C. Hollander, and Howard P. Fertig, Revisiting Ammi Phillips: Fifty years of American portraiture, Museum of American Folk Art, New York, 1994, pp. 14, 22, 71 (version # 4 – assigned to our painting – listed location unknown)

cf. “Ammi Phillips, Ebenezer Punderson” at Art Inventories Catalog, Smithsonian American Art Museum, no. IAP6151A309 at Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS) (version # 3)

 

“By almost any standard, (Ammi) Phillips is the best, the most prolific, and the most inventive country portrait painter of the 19th century. The outside influences on his early style appear to have come from the last of the great generation of 18th century Connecticut painters who raised folk art from craft to a profession… Influences aside, Phillips is the nearly perfect example of the self-taught painter who experimented to find solutions to his own painting problems… Few artists exercised their imagination as successfully in recombining these elements into compositions that were endlessly fresh and new… Phillips relied on the power of color, placement and simplicity, his particular vision expressed in highly individualistic terms – obviously appreciated by his clientele.”[1]

Ammi Phillips was born in Colebrook, Connecticut in 1788. His stylistic antecedents were Reuben Moulthrop, Nathaniel Wales, Uriah Brown and Dr. Samuel Broadbent. His earliest known portraits date from 1811 and were executed around Stockbridge and Sheffield, Massachusetts. In 1813 in Nassau, New York, he married Laura Brockway of Schodack, New York, and eventually settled in Troy, New York. In a pattern that he followed throughout his career, he traveled constantly in search of new clients. [2]

The portrait of Ebenezer Punderson (1762 – 1847), dates to circa 1821. The period from 1820 – circa 1828 is marked by stylistic changes in Phillip’s work that led to his “most realistic likenesses”. Mary Black, in the 1994 exhibition catalog on the artist held at the Museum of American Folk Art, described this period and our painting in particular as follows, “He developed a visual formula of almost mathematical precision in the placement, volume and spatial relationships between the separate elements that resulted in the creation of some of his most memorable works… Four portraits of elderly people that date from 1821 and 1823 are powerful, broadly painted visions that are among the most vigorous and most exciting of his works. The subjects are Mrs. Walter Tryon Livingston of Clermont, Ebenezer Punderson of Red Hook, Ten Eyck de Witt of Kingston, and his relative Blandina Ten Eyck of Hurley.” [3]

The only portraits Phillips executed during his visit to Red Hook in Dutchess County, New York were those of Ebenezer Punderson. He did four almost identical portraits of Punderson, of which ours is the largest. This was not unheard of in the artist’s oeuvre, as he replicated four portrayals of Sally Totten Sutherland for each of her daughters. Punderson’s intent was probably similar. The dating of our portrait to circa 1821 is based upon Punderson’s supposed age. [4] Seated at a table with his left arm on a painted chair while his right arm rests on The Book of Common Prayer, Punderson directly engages the viewer in an open and forthright manner. Typical of Phillips, during this period of intense realism, is the employment of dark costumes against a lighter background, here a rich mulberry. This convention served to set forth finely rendered features and accessories. The frill of Punderson’s jabot is as sharply delineated as any seventeenth century depiction of a Dutchman’s ruff.

The inclusion of The Common Book of Prayer is perhaps a reference to Punderson’s forbearers. His grandfather Ebenezer Punderson, Sr. (1708 – 1771), who graduated from Yale in 1725, established the First Episcopal Church in North Groton (now Ledyard), Connecticut in 1734. He ministered to the congregation from 1734 – 1752, and was succeeded by his son Ebenezer Punderson, Jr. (1735 – 1809), who served as its church leader until 1758. Also a Yale graduate, Junior later became a merchant in Preston, Connecticut. [5] By 1776, Junior was living in Norwich, Connecticut where he encountered serious trouble for voicing pro-British sentiments and openly speaking out against the American Rebellion. At the time that area was “one of the most radical regions of colonial America, and the Connecticut committees were not willing to tolerate ideological opposition.” This eventually forced Junior to flee until after the Revolution with Ebenezer III (our sitter) in tow. Incredibly the ship sunk en route, but they were rescued and eventually reached England. It is there that Ebenezer III attended college. Junior documented his travails in a 1776 pamphlet published in London, titled The Narrative of Mr. Ebenezer Punderson, Merchant; Who was drove away by the Rebels in America from his family and away from considerable fortune in Norwich, Connecticut. [6]

Ebenezer Punderson III was born in Poquetanuck (now a village in Preston), Connecticut in 1762. After the Revolution he returned from England to Preston “where it became necessary for him to marry after a too ardent courtship”. He later moved with his wife to Red Hook, where he owned a retail business. [7] But perhaps the most notable aspect of the Punderson family would lie with its descendancy, as three generations later the future oil magnate and philanthropist John Davison Rockefeller, Sr. was born, as outlined in the accompanying genealogy chart. [8]

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After the 1820s Phillips’ portraits became more standardized. His wife died in 1830, and he later remarried Jane Ann Caulkins of Northeast, New York. Afterwards, his constant traveling lessened. He continued painting portraits until his passing in Curtisville in 1865.[9]  The lasting testimony to Phillips’ artistic powers and popularity follows in the astonishing list of museums and historical institutions that acquired his works:

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection, Williamsburg, Virginia (22)

Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, New York

American Folk Art Museum, New York, New York

American Museum in Britain, Bath, England (3)

Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (2)

Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland

Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts (2)

Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York

Canaan Historical Society, Falls Village, Connecticut

Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia (2)

Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire (4)

Feinmore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York

Fishkill Historical Society, Fishkill, New York (3)

Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Gore Place Society, Gardiner, Massachusetts (6)

Goshen Historical Society, Goshen, Connecticut (2)

Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Greene County Historical Society, Coxsackie, New York

Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan (4)

Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, Kansas (2)

Huntington Library Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California

Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland (2)

Mattatuck Historical Society, Westbury, Connecticut (3)

Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, New York

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts (2)

Museum of Art, Science & Industry, Bridgeport, Connecticut

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (7)

Newark Museum of Art, Newark, New Jersey (3)

New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (4)

Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, New Jersey (3)

Public Library of Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh, New York

San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, California

Senate House State Historic Site, Kingston, New York (7)

Sharon Historical Society, Sharon, Connecticut (5)

The Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. (6)

Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, Setauket, New York

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts

Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois (2)

Ulster County Historical Society, Kingston, New York (2)

Waterloo Library & Historical Society, Waterloo, New York (2)

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York [10]


[1] Stacy C. Hollander and Mary Black, Revisiting Ammi Phillips: Fifty years of American portraiture, op.cit., p. 24.

[2] Mary Black, “Introduction” in Ammi Phillips: Portrait Painter 1788 – 1865, op.cit., pp. 10-13.

[3] Mary Black, “Ammi Phillips: Portrait Painter” in Revisiting Ammi Phillips: Fifty years of American portraiture, op.cit. pp. 14, 22.

[4] Mary Black, “Introduction” in Ammi Phillips: Portrait Painter 1785 – 1865, op.cit., pp. 14, 17; and Howard P. Fertig, “Checklist of Portraits” in Revisiting Ammi Phillips: Fifty years of American portraiture, op.cit., p. 71.

[5] “History of Saint James’ Poquetanuck Preston, Connecticut”, St. James Episcopal Church at stjamespoquetanuck.ctdiocese.org.

[6] Barbara and Lawrence Holdridge, “Ammi Phillips, 1788 – 1865”, p. 116, op.cit.; and Ebenezer Punderson, “The Narrative of Mr. Ebenezer Punderson, Merchant”, National Humanities Center, at nationalhumanitiescenter.org.

[7] Barbara C. and Lawrence B. Holdridge, “Ammi Phillips, 1788 – 1865”, p. 116, op.cit.; and Barbara C. and Lawrence B. Holdridge, “A Chronological List of Portraits by Ammi Phillips” in Ammi Phillips: Portrait Painter 1788 – 1865, op.cit., p. 47.

[8] Elroy McKendree Avery and Catherine Hitchcock (Tilden) Avery, The Groton Avery Clan, Volume I, Cleveland, 1912, pp. 226, 359, 586 – 587.

[9] Mary Black, “Introduction” in Ammi Phillips: Portrait Painter 1788 – 1865, op.cit., p. 15.

[10] This list was compiled by and accessible online at Art Inventories Catalog, Smithsonian American Art Museum, op.cit.

 

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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