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THE HUNTINGTON COLLECTION OF AMERICANA
The munificent gift of Mr. William H. Huntington to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, of the varied and interesting portraits of Washington, Franklin, and Lafayette, which he has been many years in collecting from every available European source, is an event of more than ordinary interest
and importance, since it gives the American public the opportunity of participating in an instructive enjoyment hitherto confined to erudite scholars and collectors. Mr. Huntington has placed us all under obligations, and we congratulate the museum on so valuable an accession to its treasures. It is said to be worth $12,000, which seems a low estimate when we remember that every object in the collection, however insignificant, will become more and more rare and precious with each passing year.
The collection is divided into three distinct sections, the Washington, the Franklin, and the La
fayette, although apart from these [From the Cameo head painted in 1789 by Madame De are portraits of other worthies, Bréhan, Sister of the French minister, then residing in
curious allegorical compositions, New York City.)
a mass of antique prints, and some rare cipher letters of the revolutionary period. Only a portion of the collection is as yet on exhibition, owing to the crowded condition of the museum, but enough can be seen and studied to judge of its extent and merits, and to illustrate the extraordinary admiration of foreign artists for the celebrated trio. In France, particularly, Washington was exalted
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as a hero and statesman; Franklin was lionized as a philosopher and diplomat; and Lafayette was the pride of the people. Thus every French painter, sculptor and engraver, of every rank and school, seems to have been seized with the mania for trying his hand on their portraiture. Some of these artists were favored with originals, and with the best examples from artists who were accredited with life studies, while others accepted such models as were available, or based their productions wholly upon the varied fancies of inner consciousness.
The Washingtoniana, to which this paper is more especially devoted, embraces examples in oil, bronze, marble, ivory, zinc, wedgwood, tortoiseshell, wax, pewter, cornelian, glass, gold, silver, alabaster, gilt-bronze, and faïence, as well as in etchings, pen and ink sketches, and choice engravings. We find the well-known face of the.great “ Father of his Country” on buttons, rings, medals, snuff-boxes, plaques, bowls and pitchers. There are interesting statuettes life-size busts, bas-reliefs and intaglios. One of the gems of the collection is the original miniature of Washington at twenty-five (as shown in the accompanying sketch) exquisitely painted
on ivory, which came directly from the Washington family to Mr. Huntington, having been given by Washington to a favorite niece, and until within a few years has never been out of the possession of her descendants. It represents a handsome blue-eyed young man in military costume -coat blue, vest embroidered buff, and blue scarf. It is supposed by many to have been the work of Charles Wilson Peale, and Mr. Huntington inclines to that opinion. Others believe it was executed by Copley on the occasion of Washington's famous journey of five hundred miles to Boston, on horseback in the
winter of 1757–1758. It is a fact worthy of notice in this connection that Charles Wilson Peale was only sixteen years of age when Washington was twenty-five, and had not yet turned his attention to art; while Copley was twenty, and had already distinguished himself in miniature painting. It is an interesting question, and we trust that some one will yet be able to discover the truth as to who really did execute this little work of art.
In the absence of a catalogue it is not practicable to define with precision the most interesting features of this part of the collection. A miniature by Savage is placed near its reproduction by a French artist, and the refined manner in which the Frenchman has followed the rugged American's brush is amusing. Savage never attained special eminence as an artist, but his portrait of Washington-copies of the one painted for Harvard College, 1790—seems to have been very acceptable in France, if the number of times it is found reproduced in this collection is any evidence. It has on the left lapel of his coat the jeweled order of the Cincinnati, which may in some degree account for its popularity. There are two cabinet miniatures here, one a Stuart and the other a Trumbull, which if not originals are very careful reproductions. Houdon is generally followed in the heads in bronze and other metals. A bronze-gilt statuette on a clock is a work of curious interest. Among the eight statuettes the most valuable is undoubtedly a small military equestrian example, thought to be an original of Houdon, as he made studies for an equestrian work when in America in 1785, expecting the commission would be given him by Congress for the statue of Washington, in pursuance of a resolution passed August 7, 1783. Mr. Huntington says of this statuette, "in the manner of-let us hope by Houdon. Who else in the time could have done it?" It has certain characteristics and marks indicative of Houdon's work and foundry. This great artist, whom Jefferson called “the first statuary of his time,” is known to have worked in miniature. Many of these profile heads and intaglios clearly reveal his strong lines, and everything conceded to be in his manner will elicit close scrutiny, with the hope of discovering an original. The medals are chiefly Houdon following; the most important, that of “Washington Before Boston," having been engraved by Duvivier-a beautiful example. Other notable medals are the Washington, Rochambeau and La Fayette, the Manly, the Eccleson, the Voltaire—these being departures from Houdon. The life-size wedgwood-basalt bust may be trusted--its lines of truth dispelling all doubt as to the mind, if not the hand, that produced it. Among the curiosities may be noticed a Washington head carved in ivory once utilized as an umbrella handle. Occasionally, Peale, Trumbull, Stuart, and Wright have been followed ; but the most valuable lesson learned in this examination is that any departure from Houdon in metal, marble, or gem is a mistake.
The collection of engraved portraits is invaluable, although very few of them are yet displayed; and there are many lithographs, and wood-cuts. It is a significant fact, that of the prints after originals, more than onethird included in Mr. Huntington's gift are from Stuart's paintings, full length, two-thirds, busts and heads. These prints begin with T. Holloway's beautiful folio, 1795, and come down with occasional interruptions to H. Wright Smith's, and Wm. E. Marshall's recent contributions. Of the unhappy Campbell there are eighteen illustrations. The better the engraver has executed his work the more vivid are the errors in portraiture. Of Trumbull there are some sixteen, the most desirable of which is Cheesman's full length rendering of the military portrait. Savage is fully represented, including one very handsome print of his “ Washington Family," and Robert Edge Pine, Wertmuller, Robertson, Du Simitière, Rembrandt Peale, Birch, Wright, St. Memin, and Madame De Bréhan, can be studied in turn and compared. One of the finest heads in the collection is a St. Memin, mounted in a mourning ring, of which six are said to have been executed.
As a matter of curiosity, one of the cipher rebus of the Revolutionary period in the collection is given in this connection; the reader will recognize in the writer the celebrated Henry Laurens, who was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The Franklin and the Lafayette divisions of the collection will form subjects for future papers in the Magazine.