This portrait of Zachary Taylor is an example of reverse painting on glass in the format of a portrait miniature—a very rare combination. Portrait miniatures were immensely popular in America from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. Following the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839, the fascination with photographic images began to eclipse the popularity of portrait miniatures, most of which were painted in watercolor on ivory. During this time, many miniature painters redirected their skills to coloring photographs; some even became photographers themselves. This image of Zachary Taylor may be the work of such an artist. Referring to an engraving after a daguerreotype portrait from the 1840s, the artist first copied the engraved lines onto the glass and then applied paint—highlights and details first and background last. A similar effect could be achieved by a process known as print transfer, a technique that involved transferring a wet print onto a glass surface, removing the paper, and painting over the lines that remained. This work, however, was not produced as a print transfer and is not the work of an amateur. The artist possessed the technical skill found in the best examples of reverse paintings on glass, traditional portraiture, and portrait miniatures.

Nicknamed "Old Rough and Ready,” Zachary Taylor (1784-1850) was a hero of the Mexican War following the annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845. Taylor became the nation’s twelfth president in 1849, serving only sixteen months before he died in 1850.

RELATED EXAMPLES: This miniature was probably copied from an 1848 engraving by Alexander Hay Ritchie (1822-1895) after a daguerreotype from the Mexican War period (original now lost). No other miniature portraits are known, although there are at least three canvases of Zachary Taylor based on the same engraving. Each of the canvas portraits was painted by a different hand.

Book excerpt: Warren, David B., Michael K. Brown, Elizabeth Ann Coleman, and Emily Ballew Neff. American Decorative Arts and Paintings in the Bayou Bend Collection. Houston: Princeton Univ. Press, 1998.


Cataloguing data may change with further research.

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Artist
American
probably copied from 1848 engraving by Alexander Hay Ritchie, American, 1822–1895
Title
Portrait of Zachary Taylor (1784–1850)
Date
c. 1850
Medium
Reverse oil painting on convex glass
Dimensions
Glass (oval): 2 1/8 × 1 5/8 in. (5.4 × 4.1 cm)
Credit Line

The Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Miss Ima Hogg

Current Location
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens
TEXAS ROOM
Accession Number
B.69.202
Classification
Painting
Provenance

Mr. Felix H. Kuntz, New Orleans, Louisiana; to Miss Hogg, on October 22, 1962. The only earlier piece of the provenance known is that Mr. Kuntz purchased the miniature c.1950-52 from a dealer in Stroudsberg, Pennsylvania.