Ramsier, John - portrait of Hon James Guthrie

Although this miniature looks like a photograph, it is a painting on milk glass and has been attributed to John Ramsier (1861-1936) of Kentucky. Ramsier was noted, in a similar way to John Henry Brown, for his ability to paint miniatures that imitated photographs to an amazing degree. He was also asked to copy many earlier images, both paintings and, as in this case, from photographs. His paintings tend to be on milk glass, rather than ivory, reflecting his earlier training as a photographer. There are three other miniatures by him in the collection.

Ramsier arrived in the USA in 1882 from Switzerland and was naturalised in 1897. He and his wife, Matilda lived in Louisville and had several children. In the census records, he usually describes himself just as an artist, but in 1910 stated he was a miniature painter.

The sitter is identified on a tag as Hon James Guthrie. James Guthrie (1792-1869) was a distinguished politician from Kentucky who held many important positions. Confirmation of the sitter's identity can be seen by comparison with a photo of Guthrie shown here as an older man which can be seen on the official Congressional website at GUTHRIE, James - Biographical Information and also at James Guthrie

The date of the image that this painting is made from is unknown, but as he was born in 1792 and looks to be aged in his 50's, it must have been copied from a photograph taken in the 1840's.

Comparison can also be made with an engraving showing here, which was made of Guthrie in 1852 for inclusion in a book entitled "Biographical Sketches of Eminent American Lawyers". This clearly shows him as older than the miniature and confirms the original image for the miniature must date from the early 1840's.

Guthrie was Secretary to the Treasury from 1853 to 1857. He was also a member of the Peace Congress in 1861 which tried to negotiate a means of avoiding the Civil War. As part of the process, on February 6 1861, a separate committee charged with drafting a proposal for the entire convention to consider was formed. The committee consisted of one representative from each state and was headed by James Guthrie.

He must have been one of the wealthiest men in Kentucky, as in the 1850 census he disclosed assets of $230,000 and in 1860 this had risen to $520,000. His fortune seems to have come from railroads and real estate. A city leader in Louisville, he invested in railroads, and served as president of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad and the Louisville and Portland Canal Company. He also helped found the consolidated University of Louisville and served as its second president.

He married Elizabeth Churchill Prather (1799-1836) on 13 May 1821 and they had three daughters, Ann Augusta Guthrie (1825-1872) , who married William Beverley Caldwell (1818-1892). Their second daughter was Mary Elizabeth Guthrie (1823-1901) who married Richard Henry Coke (1815-1845) and second Mr Caperton.

The youngest daughter was Sarah Julia Guthrie (4 Mar 1827-24 Jul 1901) who married John Lawrence Smith (1818-1883), showing here, who was an eminent chemist of the times. He was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1872) and of the American Chemical Society (1877).

His collection of meteorites was the finest in the United States and on his death passed to Harvard. For more about him and the family, see Doctor J. Lawrence Smith

Smith adopted a scientific approach to meteorites, as shown in two 1867 papers by him at; American Journal of Science - Google Books Result

Also note that the National Academy of Sciences awards the J Lawrence Smith Medal for investigations of meteoric bodies. It was established through the Smith Fund, by gift of his wife, Mrs. Sarah Julia Smith. The medal showing here, was first awarded in 1888, but then there was a long gap until 1922. It has been awarded more often recently and is next scheduled for presentation in 2009. National Academy of Sciences: J Lawrence Smith Medal

Many family papers from these families may be found at the library of the Filson Society in Louisville, Ky. and the family headstones are gathered around the Guthrie monument there. For other miniature portraits in the collection related to Guthrie, see Eckardt, Otto - portrait of Jane Spottswood Keller...

[Thank you to the kind visitors who left the correcting comments, now incorporated above.]

James Guthrie died in 1869 and his grave can be seen at James Guthrie Gravesite and also at Guthrie, James 1255


Anonymous said...

James Guthrie had 3 daughters; Mary Elizabeth was the oldest, and she married twice (first Coke, second Caperton). The youngest was Sarah Julia who married J. Lawrence Smith, an eminent chemist of the times. Many family papers from these three families may be found at the library of the Filson Society in Louisville, Ky. and the family headstones are gathered around the Guthrie monument there.

ggggdaughterofJG said...

Guthrie had 3 daughters. Mary, the oldest, married twice, once to Mr. Coke and after he died, she married Mr. Caperton. Ann Augusta you have. The third daughter was Sarah Julia, "Sister Jules" (it even says that on her grave stone); she married the famous chemist J. Lawrence Smith; they had no children.

C. St. Clair said...

If anyone knows of a Julia Spalding of Houston, TX related to Sarah Julia Smith, she is the beneficiary in Sarah Julia Smith's Will. I found on the Kentucky's Unclaimed Property Site. My mother was also Julia Spalding, so I researched thinking it could have been her. What I discovered was a Julia Spalding of Houston, TX. This information is not published. You can go to and type in Julia Spalding. No other information. When I inquired with the Unclaimed Property, they could only tell me it was missing heirs fund and reported by estate of Sarah Julia Smith. I searched the internet and found she was of Kentucky and then searched for her public will at the courthouse. Her Will leaves $$ to Julia Spalding of Texas. Too bad, my mother was from Louisville. I sent all of this information to KY's Unclaimed Property, including the copy of the Will. Never heard from them and don't know if they kept it or threw it out.