"Copley Portrait Raises Hopes Others Will Surface" AntiqueWeek (August 11, 2014) Captain Gabriel Maturin returned to New York for Bonham’s American art sale on May 21. John Singleton Copley’s portrait of a British army officer in pre-Revolutionary New York failed to sell.  A disappointing result, but the event drew attention to the recorded but only recently located portrait. While not fresh to market, the portrait was for the first time offered at auction with a correct attribution and identification plus an exciting back story.  Kayla Carlsen, senior specialist at Bonham’s in New York, called the painting “wonderful”, and elaborated on the depth of recent research, complete provenance, and condition, which she described as “very good.” The estimates ($500,000-$700,000) were a mere pittance in the contemporary market.  It’s too bad contemporary collectors didn’t show interest because the Maturin portrait can be viewed through the prism of some cherished themes: imperialism, cultural hegemony, and colonial identity. Not that the artist and sitter saw it that way.  Copley was born in Boston in 1738.  Self-taught and ambitious, he was, by the 1760s, that city’s greatest portraitist. Maturin was military secretary to Thomas Gage, commander in chief of George III’s forces in America.  Brave, urbane, and fluent in French (he was of Huguenot descent), he distinguished himself at the Battle of Quebec in 1759.   The portrait was painted in 1771, when Copley made a six-month visit to New York, in part, to escape the turmoil and strife of Boston.  Copley was a Loyalist, that is, he did not support independence from Great Britain.  He tried to avoid saying so, awkwardly pretending not to have an opinion on the great question of the day. This detachment was compromised in 1769 by his marriage to the daughter of a British East India Company agent.   With the political situation “hotting” up and his commissions in decline, Copley accepted the invitation to work in New York.  It was Gage’s staff, headquartered there, that organized the trip.  Copley was inspired more by personality than politics.  During these years, his sitters included Paul Revere and Sam Adams as well as Gage, who came to Boston during the Townshend Act crisis. In New York, his sitters were drawn from a narrower swathe.  Many were members of the British garrison or fellow Loyalists.  Removed from an adversarial social setting that required endless evasions, Copley flourished.  He and his wife Susannah (“Sukey” to intimates) rented a house on lower Broadway.  There were dinners, parties, and country house visits. To fit it all in, Copley rose at six and worked until late afternoon.  “I have done some of my best portraits here,” he wrote. Stylistically, the New York portraits are “an amalgam of two styles,” says Carlsen.  They are less dark, austere, and flat than the Boston portraits.  Copley was anticipating the dash and worldliness that characterize the second half of his career. It was a productive time ("No less than 37 busts," he wrote), and certainly happier than after the return to Boston.  Copley’s father-in-law was the consignee for the casks of tea that were dumped in Boston harbor in 1773.  Both Maturin and his American wife Mary (née Livingston) sat to Copley.  Copley was a faithful recorder of clothing and depicted exactly Maturin’s uniform.  Maturin wears a scarlet coat (the famous “red coat”).  His rank of aide-de-camp to general officers is indicated by the dark blue facings, pairs of gold-laced buttonholes, plain and flat gilt buttons, and, on the right shoulder, the gold laced epaulette.  The uniform provided vital information to military historian Christopher Bryant. "Eighteenth- and nineteenth- century uniforms were used by soldiers as a kind of visual language," he says. It's a language Bryant knows fluently.  "I have been fortunate to apply an extensive knowledge of period uniforms to the process of identifying portraits of military sitters in a way that is unavailable to most art historians." He first saw the portrait in 2011, when it was up for auction as "School of John Singleton Copley".  The attribution wasn't the only imprecision.  An old label identified the sitter as Walter Livingston.  And so, Walter Livingston they presumed - incorrectly, it turns out. Livingston was the first secretary of the United States Treasury.  He never wore a British uniform - especially not that uniform.  Finding out who did lead Bryant to identifying the sitter.  Connecting the portrait to Copley was helped by consulting the list of sitters who subscribed in advance of the New York visit. Number four is "Captain Maturin."  For Bryant, the process of restoring Captain Gabriel Maturin to his rightful place in American art has been "fantastically exciting." He published a summary of his research the following year in Magazine Antiques.  How Gabriel Maturin came to be confused with Walter Livingston happened under the following circumstances. Maturin died in 1774.  His widow remarried in 1778 within the same social circle.  Her second husband was Dr. Jonathan Mallet, chief surgeon of the British forces in America and recent widower.  In 1784, the couple emigrated to England.  Mary died in 1830.  Both her marriages were childless. The portraits were split up. Mary’s portrait was given to her sister in Trenton, New Jersey.  Maturin's portrait was given to his nephew, a rector in Donegal, Ireland.  The rector's son, an impecunious clergyman with nine children, traveled to New York in 1868, and sold the portrait to Oscar Livingston. Now the property of the Livingston family, the association with a distant kinswoman's youthful first marriage was lost. Lost, too, was the Copley attribution. That the portrait was a Copley was a persistent tradition of the owners, though it appears to have been subject to official skepticism. An old study photo (titled Portrait of Walter Livingston) in the Frick Art Reference Library in New York classifies the portrait as "American Painting, late 18th century."  The photo bears a label fragment and accession number, which suggest the portrait was long ago exhibited or on loan to a museum. Which museum? As befits a handsome man, mystery about Captain Gabriel Maturin lives on. hoto was donated to the Frick Art Reference Library Mary's portrait has a more stable history. It was still in Trenton a century later, when a photo of it was donated to the same library by a restorer.  In a letter, dated 1938, he refers to the portrait as "a Copley of Miss Livingston of New York."  Mary's maiden identity was secure with her sister's descendants. Modern scholars paired Mary's portrait with that of her second husband who, a little confusingly, also sat to Copley. (He's number five on the subscription list.) Mary Livingston Mallet was sold at auction in London in 1971. It was included in a catalog published in 1976 by the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, where it was on loan until 1980.   While Copley has been “done” by scholars, gaps remain. Of the New York portraits, some are unrecorded.  Others are recorded but unlocated.  (In this category is the portrait of Mary's second husband.) There are also located portraits of disputed identity.  Finally, there are portraits located many years ago, though the provenance has since petered out. One cold case is Mary. She was last spotted, in the early 1980s, circulating through the New York art market.  Potentially, that means more finds - though fewer than once assumed.  A "bust" in Copley's idiom was a currency unit worth 10 guineas.  In that light, the "37 busts" he cited refers not to the number of portraits but the amount of money he made.  The fabled "New York 37" has been reduced to 25 or so. Still, finds there may be at the low end of the market. The first time it passed through a saleroom, back in 2011, Gabriel Maturin (alias Walter Livingston) was scooped into a F&D sale. Further discoveries would be of historic importance, though the financial value is uncertain. Copley portraits offered recently at traditional valuations are pretty much on the shelf. Mrs. George Turner, c. 1767, a pastel portrait, was bought in on May 22 at Christie’s in New York ($50,000-$70,000).  The last time it passed through a saleroom, in 1978, the hammer price was $58,000, which was comfortably above estimate ($43,000-$52,000) . Another recent buy-in was  Rebecca Dudley Gerrish, ca. 1763-66, an oil portrait that was offered last December, also at Christie’s in New York ($300,000-$500,000).   While demand for Colonial portraits is weak, Carlsen points out that "the market for 18th century American portraiture is no different from any other in that all such markets are cyclical over time." She adds, "Although buyers for important 18th century American portraits may be scarce at this moment, exceptional examples of Copley's American portraits are even rarer, and becoming ever more so." Captain Gabriel Maturin has a secure attribution and identity, but doesn't have a home. According to Carlsen, it is "worthy of finding a permanent home in an institutional setting." If that happens, it would be typical of the circuitous route that portraits of Loyalists and members of the Colonial administration take to American museum collections. Mrs. Roger Morris is another of Copley’s New York portraits.  The sitter was born into the Philipse family, the great Dutch landowners in the Hudson Valley.  Because of the Revolution, Colonel Morris removed his wife and children to Yorkshire, England.  The portrait went, too. While she was an exclusive lady in life, after death, her portrait got passed around among dealers and collectors until at last, in the 1960s, it found a safe haven at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. Much better represented in American museums are the portraits of men and women who supported the Revolution.  Many entered public collections back in the days when portraiture was treated as a branch of genealogy.  Such works were, so to speak, on site and came with a controlled and documented provenance, typically passing “thence by descent” through a line of senators, ambassadors, and Bank of New York directors.  Samuel Verplanck, Giulian Verplanck, and Daniel Crommelin Verplanck, all painted by Copley in New York, were donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the sitters’ descendants.  They were family portraits.  Regardless of Captain Gabriel Maturin's destination, it fills in a blank in Copley's American oeuvre.  America’s first great artist was all his life a subject of the British crown.  In 1774, Copley left for London, never to return.  For a few months, he was also a New York artist.  He wined and dined, made a lot of money, and painted portraits.  Where are the rest? 
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