Anderson, Alexander - portrait of naval officer and wife

Miniatures painted in watercolor on paper are less common than those painted on ivory, perhaps because fewer have survived for 200 years.

This interesting pair of watercolor on paper miniatures appear to be by a fairly well trained, but amateur hand. The previous owner acquired them in Erie Pa without any provenance, but naturally wondered if they represented Oliver Hazard Perry and his wife, Elizabeth Champlin Mason. This seems unlikely, but cannot be completely ruled out.

Although I am not an expert on uniforms, it does seem that the man is wearing a blue uniform jacket, such as a junior naval officer might wear, which has more buttons than an ordinary jacket of around 1805. There are three gold or brass buttons at the top of his waistcoat and the buttons on his outer coat go right up to the shoulder.

Two portraits of Oliver Hazard Perry are shown here. One is a miniature, probably painted by Joseph Wood and thought to date to around 1810. The other is an engraving, possibly of slightly later date.

Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819) was born in Wakefield, RI and was warranted a midshipman in the navy on Jul 7 1799 on the recommendation of his father, Captain Christopher Perry.

He was given his first command in 1809. He then had a brilliant, although sometimes controversial career, until he died aboard ship off Venezuela in 1819, a victim of yellow fever.

There is some likeness between the engraving and the watercolor portrait, but any likeness is less obvious when compared to the miniature by Joseph Wood.

Also shown here is a miniature portrait of his wife, Elizabeth Champlin Mason, believed to have been painted by Robert Fulton around 1811.

This may have been a marriage portrait, as Oliver and Elizabeth were married on May 5, 1811, having met each other at a dance four years earlier. There is a faint likeness between the watercolor portrait and the miniature of Elizabeth by Robert Fulton, but not enough to be relied upon.

Nevertheless, the pair of watercolors are good honest depictions from around 1805 and if not of Oliver Hazard Perry, may represent a brother officer and his wife, who could have been known to Perry.

The images of the miniatures of Oliver and Elizabeth shown here are copied from an exhibition catalogue dated 1957 when the two miniatures were privately owned. They have since been gifted to the MFA in Boston.

It is possible a scholar of early American watercolor portraits on paper may recognise the artist of this pair.

Update: Since the above was written about the pair of watercolors, this miniature portrait of Mrs Alexander Anderson by her husband Alexander Anderson (1775-1870) has been located in the collection of the NYHS.

It is 3 1/4ins by 2 1/4ins and there are several other miniature portrait by Anderson in the NYHS collection.

Given the similarity of style, an attribution of the pair of watercolor miniatures to Alexander Anderson seems to be a reasonable assumption, pending any closer attribution. 1272a, 1272b

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