The history of art produced in England’s North American colonies before the 1729 arrival of John Smibert (1688-1751) (see B.72.7 and B.72.8) largely concerns itinerant and anonymous portrait painters, called limners to distinguish them from house painters and painters of coaches and signs. Artists are often given a name associated with specific portraits in which the sitter has been identified, and paintings that share stylistic and technical similarities are ascribed to this artist. Thus, the artist of Portrait of a Boy has been attributed to the Pierpont Limner, identified by portraits of the Reverend James Pierpont and his wife Mrs. James Pierpont (1711, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven).

According to Pierpont family tradition, the Pierpont Limner was “an English painter of repute, temporarily sojourning” in Boston. Clearly this artist was well trained and accomplished, for he exhibits a level of sophistication not seen in works by such contemporaries as the Pollard Limner (working in the Boston area). The 30-by-25-inch format, consisting of a partial profile set within a painted oval, was popularized in England by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1648-1723), a German-born and Dutch-and Italian-trained artist who worked in the studio of Rembrandt, from whom he absorbed a sensitivity to depicting forms within diffused light. These are the very effects that characterize this portrait, as well as other portraits attributed to the Pierpont Limner, and it may be that this artist trained in or was somehow associated with Kneller’s studio.

Although much of the canvas has been restored, technical evidence—a reddish ground and a combination of thick, opaque and thin, translucent pigments—links this portrait to the work of the Pierpont Limner. The composition, in which the sitter is placed in profile before a partially illuminated monochromatic background and within an oval, is characteristic of the work of this artist. The portrait reveals an especially sensitive effect of light on form, throwing into prominence the closely observed face and strong draftsmanship.

The facial characteristics of this sitter are similar to those of Edward Collins, the son of John and Margarita Schuyler Collins of Albany, in a portrait attributed to the Pierpont Limner (see Related examples). It has been suggested that Edward Collins may have had his likeness painted in Boston while visiting Ver Plank cousins. Because the Pierpont Limner likely painted Caleb Heathcote, a dignitary of the New York area, a portrait of Edward Collins may have been painted near Albany, which would indicate the Pierpont Limner's itinerancy beyond New England to include the New York area. It has also been proposed that this portrait may represent a brother or other relative of Edward.

RELATED EXAMPLES: Edward Collins, inscribed at a later date under portrait: “Edward Collins, bom in Albany anno 1704 D-ft, 1753/’ ca. 1716. Albany Institute of History and Art; Elisha Lord, the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford; and Richard Lord, Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, Massachusetts.

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
Attributed to The Pierpont Limner, English, active American Colonies, c. 1711–1716
Title
Portrait of a Boy
Date
c. 1711–1716
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
Canvas: 30 1/8 × 24 3/8 in. (76.5 × 61.9 cm)
Credit Line

The Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Miss Ima Hogg

Current Location
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens
MURPHY ROOM
Accession Number
B.62.39
Classification
Painting
Provenance

Vose Galleries, Boston, in 1962; to Miss Hogg, July 6, 1962.