Thursday, August 16, 2012

American Art

Post by: Jennifer Chapmane Smith
              Collections and Exhibitions Manager

One of the greatest strengths of the WCMFA is the amazing American art collection. Part of the collections inventory is making works of art more accessible to the public – through exhibitions, online access, scholarly research, and much more - especially the great works of American art in the collection.

Two paintings that have been inventoried and show the breadth of the WCMFA’s collection are the portraits by Joshua Johnson (American, 1795-1830) - Portrait of Susanna Amos Yoe and Daughter Mary Elizabeth Yoe, 1809, and Portrait of Benjamin Franklin Yoe and Son Benjamin Franklin Yoe Jr., 1809. Johnson was a portrait painter in Baltimore in the late 1700 and early 1800s. He is identified in city directories as “a free householder of colour.” A son of a white man and a black slave, Johnson’s father, George Johnson, purchased his son and immediately freed him, according to manumission records. Johnson was a primarily self taught artist whose style is somewhat flat, but who attracted many commissions in and around Baltimore.

The arrangement of the sitters suggests that the portraits were hung in the family home: father and son on the right and mother and daughter on the left, so that the parents look toward each other, protecting the children in the middle.  The flowers the children hold, a dark red rose and pink roses, are symbols of love and affection. The Yoe family moved to Hagerstown in 1810 from Baltimore. Benjamin Franklin Yoe Jr., born in 1804, later became an attorney in Hagerstown and a member of the House of Delegates representing Washington County, Maryland. Mary Elizabeth Yoe, born in 1806, married George Fechtig, a Hagerstown merchant, in 1823.

These wonderful portraits are currently on view in the museum’s Mason Gallery. High quality photographs and information garnered from the inventory process, followed by online access, will keep these paintings accessible even when they come off view.          

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