Dun Dun Dun!
Two of our portraits are not at the Kent-Delord House Museum! Some docents were concerned what happened when they came to the Museum following the incident. I could assure them though that they were not missing, but instead are getting evaluated for conservation! Phew!
Often when you walk into an old historic house museum like the Kent-Delord House, you are told immediately not to touch anything. The words of caution tend to be off putting at times, but people who work at old museums worry about the age and delicacy of the artifacts. We have artifacts that are over 200 years old, and we would like to keep them around for 200 more years! So if you ever feel offended by the requests not to touch anything- it is not about you but about the artifacts. Oils on hands will speed up the aging of any artifact, and the smaller number of hands to touch them, the better.
Occasionally we have to repair some of our artifacts. Right now we have sent two of our portraits to be evaluated for conservation. We are not restoring these portraits, but merely conserving them to prevent future damage. A couple of weeks ago, one of our board members, Sally Booth, accompanied Amanda Palmer, curator of the Alice T. Miner Museum, to Williamstown, Massachusetts to bring our two portraits to be evaluated along with an artifact from Amanda’s Museum.
The two portraits that were sent for conservation are of Betsey Delord and Henry Livingston Webb. We used reports from the 1980s to decide which portraits needed it the most (just to show you how long it’s been since this issue was investigated). Betsey’s frame is damaged and is in the worst shape of all the paintings, with Henry Livingston Webb not far behind.
Betsey Delord’s portrait was painted in 1818 in Plattsburgh by Abraham G. B. Tuthill. It was painted along with two other portraits, one of her husband Henry and one of her daughter Frances Henrietta. These portraits were sent to Nismes, France in the fall of 1820 as a way to show Henry’s sister, then his only living relative, what his family looked like. These portraits were truly a precursor to photographs! Before sending the portraits to his sister, Henry wrote on October 24th, “My portrait and those of my family are already in boxes and ready to ship…These portraits have been painted two years ago- people say they are not perfect as possible- the ones of my wife and of Francoise, which I can vouch, are of exact likeness and strikingly natural. My wife since that time gained weight- she is very beautiful and elegant woman well bred and educated and I may say quite truthfully and without flattery that her virtues even surpass her beauty.”
The artist who painted the portraits, Abraham G.B. Tuthill, was born in 1776 on the northeastern tip of Long Island and later moved with his family to a farm in Vermont in 1799. During the 19th century, Tuthill traveled around the United States looking for painting commissions, and in 1818 he found himself in Plattsburgh painting the portrait of the Delord family.
So how did we get the paintings back from France? Well, in 1832 Frances Henrietta married Henry Livingston Webb and spent the next eight months in Europe on their honeymoon. Frances and Henry made it to Nismes, France on October 11, 1832 and retrieved Henry and Betsey’s portrait and sent it to the states in January of 1833, leaving behind the portrait of Frances Henrietta because Henry’s sister’s servant so adored the painting. Frances Henrietta’s portrait was retrieved by Frances’ daughter Fannie during her honeymoon in Europe in 1857.
After Betsey’s portrait was returned to the states, the leading portrait painter in New York City, Henry Inman, “improved” the portrait by adding a shawl to her outfit. Adding the shawl was probably an effort to make Betsey’s appearance more modest, especially because she became more religious later in life. Henry Inman was born in Utica, New York on October 28, 1801, and in 1814 started his apprenticeship to John Wesley Jarvis, who painted two other portraits that are on display in the Blue Parlor at the Kent-Delord House Museum. Inman also painted other portraits on display including the one of John Hayes Webb, Frances Henrietta Delord Webb’s posthumous portrait, and the two of Henry Livingston Webb, one of which is in Williamstown to be analyzed for conservation.
The portrait of Henry Livingston Webb that is in Williamstown was painted as his wedding portrait before marrying Frances Henrietta in 1832 when he was 37 years old.
Considering that Betsey Delord’s portrait made it to France and back in the 19th century (before planes and barely after the development of steam power) and also the normal wear and tear on these artifacts because of their age, it is amazing that these portraits are still around today!
The Kent-Delord House Museum is applying for grants to preserve these portraits, but nothing is set in stone yet. The portraits are in Williamstown to get an estimate on what it would cost to conserve them, and from there we will apply for funding.
We are conserving these portraits for the people who come to the Kent-Delord House Museum and enjoy these wonderful pieces! It is thanks to our members and continued supporters that we are able to send these portraits to be examined, however, we still need help! Please consider making a donation to preserve these paintings and their stories for future generations to come!