John Henry Brown - portrait of Anna Maria Coleman

A great pleasure in providing information on this website is the opportunity to help other people who are researching on the Internet and seeking information on 'Artists or Ancestors'. A recent letter to me read as follows and I think you should be able to share the excitement of the researcher;

I have a very exciting story to tell you. At least it was exciting to me, and judging by the information I gleaned from you, you would find it exciting too. Anna Maria Coleman is the subject of a miniature shown in the photos attached to this message. She grew up near Lancaster Pennsylvania. Her father was James Coleman, of the iron manufacturing family during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Anna was born in 1826, married in 1847, lost her husband in 1848, had his child in 1849, re-married on 14 July 1853, and had five more children by her second husband. She was my grandmother's maternal grandmother, through the girl who was born after her father's death. The miniature was long in my grandmother's keeping, and found its way to me after my father's death in 2005. The penciled label on the back of the frame is in my grandmother's handwriting. 

Finding the miniature to have considerable intrinsic appeal as well as bearing on a sad but historically formative time, I became curious to know who painted it and when. The clues accumulated slowly as I groped my way around available research material, then speeded up in the last few days. I contacted one of the curators at the Philadelphia Museum of Art about a related question, mentioned the miniature to her, and she almost immediately suggested that the painter might have been John Henry Brown. I looked around for some of his things, and for other miniaturists of the time. I had a hunch that the work was done about 1855, because she appears as a mature but still young woman. 

My search led me to your blog on Three American Miniature Portraits.
Brown, John Henry - portrait of Emily Hinds - 3 American Miniature ...
As soon as my eye lit on Emily Hinds, her brooch jumped out at me. The similarity between it and the one worn by Anna Coleman was just too hard to swallow as sheer coincidence. Then I read further, and saw the portrait of Mrs Metcalfe in a brown striped dress . . . SAME BROOCH!! Then reading over your blog again, I noticed your commentary on the similarities between the Mrs Cadwalader miniature and that of Mrs Destouet. So Brown was known to have used the same "scenery" in multiple portraits. 

Also picking up on your report that Brown's signature was very small, I went back for the third time to look for an artist's name -- I was fooled the first two times. This time I put the image under 7x magnification . . . and there it was:
 J H Brown 1853 !!!! 

You are right, his letters are less than 1 mm. I am intrigued by the tiny brush strokes around the margin of the painting -- the artist must have been testing his colors on the real material before he committed them to the actual painting. I do not know what the material is, I am pretty sure it is not ivory because I have seen a lot of it, it is a pale whitish material that looks like plastic. I have heard it said that there were various synthetic materials that may have been preferable to ivory at the time. The image by the way is 7,2 mm x 9,2 mm. So I am wondering if Brown had a catalog for 1853 that might show any further information about the painting. 

Anna was re-married at this time, and she would have gone by Anna Coleman Peace, or Mrs Peace. Her husband was Dr Edward Peace, who could have requested the painting. I imagine you can share the sense of amusement, exhilaration, and pleasure at having an artistic mystery fall into place. For a time I was struck by the irony of the Hinds miniature, where you knew the artist but not the sitter, and my predicament, which seemed just the opposite. Now I have both. I owe you a debt of gratitude for the several key pieces of information about Mr Brown that I could not have discovered elsewhere -- Thank you! 

I replied to the owner as follows; That is a great story and I am glad to have helped with your research! It is good to know that the portrait still remains within the family. Yes, the miniature should be painted on ivory, the reverse will show graining like oak timber. Synthetic materials were used quite a bit later. The work book for JHB is held by the Rosenbach Museum and Library, http://www.rosenbach.org/ so if you contact them you should be able to find the reference to your miniature. It may also mention if other family portraits were painted by JHB around the same time. If you are happy for me to do so, I would welcome the opportunity to post your story and the images on the website, but without mentioning your name, unless you wished me to mention your name? 

From your reference to the Coleman family, I wonder if your Anna Maria Coleman may be related to the Ann Coleman Watts Ladd who I discuss at http://american-miniatures20c.blogspot.co.nz/2006/04/coleman-anna-portrait-of-lady.html I have not investigated the Coleman link, but she was connected to the iron and steel industry. 

The owner then kindly provided further interesting information;

There was more excitement when I arose this Sunday morning to find your response -- you are on the early-bird side of the dateline, and no one here would answer a message for another day.

I am attaching a photo of Anna Coleman Watts Ladd, when she was 10 months old in her Mum's arms.  Thank you for directing me to your blog on Anna, I did not know any of those colorful stories. I would love to see some of her sculptures.

I did write the Rosenbach museum, but have not heard back from them. I am interested that you think Brown would have recorded some details of the miniature. 

 It would be fine with me if you would post my information on your website. Please identify me as a family member and Pennsylvania native who has wandered (one of the Wild Geese??). Your presentation of the material is clear and elegant, and my emails are more haphazard than elegant; so please feel free to edit as you see fit.  

What do you think of the circumstantial detail that the brooch might tie Mrs Metcalfe to JHB, in the absence of other clear indications of its authorship?

Whereupon I further replied;
Many thanks for the extra information and the photo of Anna. I will put together a post based on your very helpful and interesting information but it may take me a day or so to do that. I have a couple of Anna's sculptures here, but if you feel you have the cash to spare I have seen there is one of Anna's sculptures available on eBay. 

The Rosenbach detail indicates how long a portrait took and also who else was painted by JHB in the same year, but not much more than that.  Regretfully, I am doubtful that the brooch was a 'studio' piece. Mourning brooches were both very personal and very common, hence I think it was just a similar design. The lace is a different situation, as JHB took a photo of each sitter and then copied it onto ivory. Thus he could copy a single item of lace from one photo to several different sitters.

Later again - the owner advised as follows;
My story continues. You have been quite consistently right in your helpful suggestions. In October I read an original letter in Lancaster from the two daughters, dated June 1 1853, with additions by Mr. Drayton. I found it confusing. The two girls had quite similar handwriting -- one of them wrote, "I began my sittings with Brown on Wednesday, it is not at all tedious I am to go again on Tuesday. . . your own Hallie." Hallie was the familiar name for Harriet Dawson Coleman Drayton. Then there was another letter from the girls' brother Dawson on June 25th, saying "Anna I understand went to Castners yesterday afternoon (Saturday) and if she has indeed gone there I suppose will return in a day or two as she is sitting for her picture which I understand is for you."
Ms Kathy Haas of the Rosenbach did respond, and once I figured out that Anna Maria Coleman would have been using her deceased husband's surname when she sat for her portrait, she was able to find the right entries in J H Brown's journal. The following excerpts from her emails are more than I could have hoped:

 "The new name did the trick.  'Mrs. Dr. Parker' does appear in his list of miniatures for 1853 at  cost of $175. On June 18 Brown notes "Commenced a picture of Mrs. Dr. Parker, the sister of my last sitter Mrs. Drayton." He lists that he was "At Mrs. Parker's picture" in a number of subsequent entries and his entry for July 1-2 notes that he finished it. Then Ms. Haas looked back for more detail on the first sitter, and found this: " . . . the sitter was Mrs. Heyward Drayton and the picture was painted in May/June of 1853, also at a cost of $175. When he finished it, his entry on June 13-16 claimed “It is one of my best.”
So now my confusion is resolved, the letters were talking about two different paintings, one for each sister. This was the first I knew of the existence of a miniature of Hallie. Wouldn't it be interesting to see it? I suspect the alignment of four sources of provenance for a painting is unusual: a signed and dated painting, my grandmother's label on the back, two family letters, and the painter's journal. Does it get better than that?

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