Herve, Walter - portrait of Benjamin Leach Allen

This is a well documented miniature portrait of Captain Benjamin Leach Allen, but it is unsigned.

As has been mentioned on other occasions, unsigned miniatures represent both a frustration and an opportunity!

Initially many miniatures were added into this blog as "unknown artist of unknown sitter". That is now regarded as a bit defeatist, at least as far as the artist is concerned.

Thus the preference now is make a best guess at the artist, give the reasons for the choice and hope that further research or contact from visitors to the website, will enable correction or confirmation of the artist.

In this instance, it is best to start with the sitter. He is clearly identified on the reverse as "Capt Benj L Allen" (8 Mar 1803-24 Sep 1865). Additionally a number of his relations are identified, as shown in the image below. On another scrap of paper there is the comment "Benj L Allen, mother's Uncle Ben, one time Mayor of Boston."

A search of the Internet prior to the auction revealed no confirmation of this, but when the miniature arrived, it was accompanied by an extract from a book "The Memorial History of Boston, Including Suffolk County. Massachusetts 1630-1880" by Justin Winsor. The extract is from page 259 and reads;

"At the municipal election on Dec 12 1853, there were three candidates for mayor: Benjamin Seaver, the nominee of the Whigs, Jerome Van Crowninshield Smith, the nominee of the Native American Party, and Jacob Sleeper, the nominee of the Temperance men. Mr Seaver received the highest number of votes, but not a majority and on the third ballot, taken Jan 9, 1854, Dr Smith was elected. During the interval between the first Monday in January and the date at which the new mayor was sworn in (the sixteenth of that month) Mr Benjamin L Allen, the chairman of the board of alderman, acted as mayor."

There was also a typed note with more family history relating to a sampler, which reads;

"This sampler was embroidered in 1793 by Hannah Lee when she was twelve years old. She was the only daughter of Captain John Lee of Andover, Mass. and was the sister of Jeremiah. Hannah Lee married Major Israel Foster. Their daughter, Hannah Lee Foster married Benj Leach Allen 1st who was born 3/8/1803 and died 9/24/1865 in Manchester, Mass. He was Chairman of the Board of Alderman of Boston in 1853."

and "When Benj and Hananh's only child -Hannah Lee Allen - died in infancy, her parents asked that his brother's expected child - if a girl - bear the same name. Isaac and Harriet (Osborne) Allen's daughter was born 5/1/1837 and was so named Hannah Lee Allen as requested. She never married and died at the home of her sister, Harriet Eliza (Allen) Johnson (Mrs Hervey Shepard Johnson 1st) in Nahant. Their daughter Edith Osborne Johnson married Harry Colby Wilson 10/12/1897. Both were born on Nahant".

In conjunction with a kind lady who has been researching the Allen family tree, we found an image of the sampler concerned on the Internet and it is shown here. It was apparently sold at auction for $1528 in 2005 and the size was 10 1/4 inches X 9 1/2 inches.

It was sad to know a branch of the family decided to sell the two items separately, so that the sampler is now separated from the miniature, as part of the wording on the sampler reads; "Hannah Lee, when this you see, remember me. Wrought in The Twelfth Year of my Age 1793".

It is now over 200 years since Hannah Lee sewed the sampler, but by placing it here, through the image we are still able to remember her, and via the Internet to link her sampler with her son-in law's miniature portrait for any other family members to see.

Thus from all this information the family is well documented. The information has been transcribed in detail here, so that any person researching these names on the Internet should be able to find this reference.

From the information, we have established Benjamin Leach Allen lived in Boston in 1853 and, as be was born in 1803, the miniature probably dates to around the time of his marriage in 1824, or possibly a little later as his clothing may date to around 1835.

This suggests the artist was active in Boston around 1825/1835. One artist who may fit the bill is William Hudson Jr (1787-1861). Johnson comments "From 1829-1856 he worked in Boston ...Hudson's works are usually signed and dated. The few miniatures he is known to have painted, done early in his career, are competently executed; they show subjects with rosy coloring, often seated in a red chair".

Rosy coloring is apparent here and the date fits. Richard Morrell Staigg was another Boston miniaturist noted for rosy coloring, but he was not working in Boston as early as this.

However, since I wrote the above a knowledgeable visitor has advised the miniature is probably by Walter R Herve who worked in Boston in the late 1820's and probably into the 1830's. I am very grateful for this advice, which may help other collectors identify more of his work.

Little else is known about Walter Herve. Blattel mentions him as active in New Orleans, La and Norfolk Va between 1805-1812.

Although, I was wrong, I could clutch at a straw and say by choosing William Hudson, I was on the right track as he has the same intitials as Walter Herve, "W H"! 1285


Benjamin Leach Allen III said...

I was very interested in the miniture of BLA as we have an oil painting very similar in our household. Unfortunately, I cannot see the artists name or date of the portrait.

Benjamin Leach Allen III said...

I was very intereste the minature portrai of BLA, as we have a similar oil portrait here in our house, that were given to us thriough inheritance from BLA ancestors. Unfortunately cannot see artist's name nor the date of the portrait.

Don Shelton said...

Thank you, that is interesting. As you mention an oil portrait, I presume you mean it is a large portrait? If you would like to discuss the portraits direct with me, please email me at; collector(at)