Friday, October 19, 2012

Portrait of Rosina Hager Heister by Joseph Wright

Post by: Jennifer Chapman Smith
              Collections and Exhibitions Manager

The WCMFA is situated in the beautiful City Park in Hagerstown, Maryland. Also in City Park is the Jonathan Hager house, the home of the founder of the town. Jonathan Hager (1714 – 1775), emigrated from Germany in 1736 and inspired by Charles Calvert’s offer of cheap land to those willing to settle the western frontier moved to Western Maryland in 1739. He purchased 200 acres of land, naming it “Hager’s Fancy”, and began constructing the home styled in the German tradition. In 1762 Hager officially founded the town he called Elizabethtown, in honor of his wife. The City Council changed the name to Hagerstown in 1813 because the name had gained popular usage. The name change was officially endorsed by the Maryland State Legislature in 1814. Hager was also instrumental in helping Hagerstown become the county seat of the newly created Washington County, Maryland.

Jonathan Hager House
In 1740, Hager married Elizabeth Kershner (d.1765), also a German emigrant, and the couple had two children, Rosina (1752 – 1810) and Jonathan Jr. (b.1755). The WCMFA is fortunate to have the portrait of Rosina Hager in the collection. It was given to the museum by Mr. Lewis E. Wingert, a Hager descendent, in 1991. The portrait is currently on view in a special focus exhibition in honor of Hagerstown’s 250th Anniversary.
Joseph Wright, “Portrait of Rosina Hager Heister,” circa 1790, oil on canvas

Prior to being hung in the focus exhibition the portrait was inventoried by the inventory team. Part of the inventory process is performing a condition report on each object. The report provides us with a good understanding of the condition of all objects in our collection. The structural integrity of the painting was checked as well as the integrity of the frame. The report allows us to determine if the object is being stored appropriately and if it is able to be put on view. The inventory team found that the portrait of Rosina Hager has areas of retouched paint from a previous conservation that are lighter than the original paint but the structure of the painting and frame are secure and do not prevent the painting from being safely displayed. With such a significant anniversary for the city the WCMFA felt it important to have the portrait in the exhibition and with the condition report from the inventory complete we felt comfortable including it.
The portrait was painted around 1790 by Joseph Wright (American, 1756-1793) when Rosina Hager was living in the Philadelphia area with her husband Daniel Heister (1741-1804). It is believed that a portrait of Daniel Heister was completed at this time as a companion to Rosina’s portrait but the location of this painting is not known.
The artist, Joseph Wright, was the son of wax artist, Patience Lovell Wright, and probably received his first training from her. Wright moved with his mother to London and Paris, where he studied art. He met Benjamin Franklin in Paris and completed several portraits of the prominent American. After returning to America in 1783, Wright became a well known portrait artist in Philadelphia and completed his most prominent work, the portraits of George and Martha Washington.       
The special Hagerstown 250th Focus Exhibition is on view in the WCMFA’s lobby now through October 28, 2012. Other objects on view are Jonathan Hager’s waistcoat, the Hager Family Bible and Sermon Book, and Jonathan Hager’s pocket watch and shoe buckles.

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