Miniatures Provide Interesting Perspectives on the Extended Delord Family
A miniature is a very small painting, particularly a portrait that can be held in the hand or worn as a piece of jewelry. The word is applied to manuscript illuminations as well as portraits and derives from the Latin minium, the red lead used to emphasize initial letters, decorated by the miniator. Since the seventeenth century, the term has been applied to all types of manuscript illustration on account of a mistaken etymology: the word was connected with `minute’ (small). What we today call a `miniature’ was called historia in the Middle Ages and the portraits painted by Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), the celebrated English miniaturist, and others were named `limnings’ or `pictures in little’ by the Elizabethans. They were painted on vellum or occasionally on ivory or card, and in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there was a vogue for miniatures done in an enameling technique. The portrait miniature developed from a fusion of the traditions of medieval illumination and the Renaissance medal and flourished from the early sixteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, when photography virtually killed it as a serious art form. The Kent-Delord House Museum is very fortunate to have an extensive collection of miniatures depicting three generations of the extended family.
These lovely watercolors on ivory miniatures of Frank Hall’s parents are attributed to Robert Fulton and date from about 1812. Robert Fulton was an engineer and inventor widely credited with developing the first steam-powered ship marked as a commercial success. Born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1765, Fulton went to England to study painting in 1786. Fulton apprenticed in the studio of Benjamin West. In 1797 Fulton went to France and began experimenting with torpedo boats. He designed the first practical submarine, Nautilus, commissioned by Napoleon and first tested in 1800.The first time Fulton proposed the idea of a steamship to Napoleon, the general’s response was, “You would make a ship sail against the winds and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? Excuse me, I have no time to listen to such nonsense.”
Fulton’s first steamboat, Clermont, left New York City for Albany on August 17, 1807, inaugurating the first commercial steamboat service in the world. Fulton never called Clermont by that name, instead referring to it simply as North River Steamboat. Robert Fulton died of pleurisy at the age of forty-nine in 1815. He is interred in the Trinity Church Cemetery in Manhattan.
Two more miniature bust portraits painted on ivory, one of Nathaniel Nye Hall, and the other of Joseph Webb, Jr. Both are on ivory; neither is signed. The Hall miniature dates from about 1815, while the Webb miniature dates from the late eighteenth century.
Nathaniel Nye Hall was born in Massachusetts, probably during the early 1780s. He married Margaret Bloodgood Hall in Newark, New Jersey on June 19, 1818. Margaret and Nathaniel had three children: Eliza Cobham, born April 16, 1819; Frances Eugenia, born November 22, 1822; and Francis Bloodgood, born November 16, 1827. Francis Hall had a sister named Frances as well as a wife named Frances! Nathaniel Hall died in New York City on May 10, 1850. Margaret Hall died on January 19, 1865, probably in Albany.
Joseph Webb, Jr. was born in Wethersfield, Connecticut on August 8, 1749. He married Abigail Chester in Wethersfield on November 22, 1774. Joseph and Abigail had ten children: Sarah (1775-1805); Harriet (1779-1818); Joseph Hayes (1781-1814); Eliza B. (1783-1858); Frances C. (1784-1844); John Hayes (1786-1847); Amelia (1791-1859); Thomas Chester (1793-1821); Henry Livingston (1795-1846); and Charles (1797-1833). Like his son-in-law Frank Hall, Henry Livingston Webb had a sister named Frances as well as a wife named Frances! Joseph Webb, Jr. died in Wethersfield on December 1, 1815. Abigail Chester Webb died on March 16, 1827.
Two miniature bust portraits painted on ivory of John Hayes Webb, Henry’s best friend among his many siblings and the best man at his wedding to Frances Henrietta Delord. The miniature on the left was painted by Anson Dickinson in New York City in 1812. The miniature on the right is attributed to Henry Inman and dates from about 1825.
John Webb’s friendship with Henry Inman was undoubtedly responsible for the number of portraits that Inman painted of members of the Webb family. Henry Inman (1801-1846) was the leading New York City portrait painter of his time. Born in Utica, he moved with his family to New York in 1812. Two years later he was apprenticed to John Wesley Jarvis, the most fashionable portraitist in the city. Inman’s relationship with his teacher was cordial, and they traveled together to New Orleans in the winter of 1820-1821. At the conclusion of Inman’s seven years with Jarvis, the two artists were together in Boston. Back in New York, Inman soon began to eclipse Jarvis, gaining the patronage of distinguished families in the city. When the National Academy of Design was formed, Inman became its first vice president.
During his relatively brief lifetime, Inman was particularly noted for his versatility as a painter. He was one of the country’s finest miniature painters during the early 1820s. He painted a number of idyllic landscapes and some very popular genre paintings during the early 1840s, a number of which were engraved and reproduced in gift books. Primarily, however, he was a painter of life-size oil portraits, notable for their suggestion of humor, self-confidence and vivacity. His portraits of ladies emphasized their beauty; those of gentlemen were dashing, yet dignified; and his portraits of children, often in groups, suggested carefree innocence.
Frances Henrietta, the only child of Henry and Betsey Delord, was born at her parents’ home in Plattsburgh on October 13, 1813. The miniature on the left, a watercolor on ivory, is of Frances Henrietta as a young girl. An inscription on the red painted leather case reads: “From your affectionate friend Mary Osborne.” The miniature on the right, another watercolor on ivory, appears to have been patterned after Frances Henrietta’s wedding portrait. The wedding portrait was painted by William Page just prior to the couple’s marriage in 1832, when Frances Henrietta was eighteen.
On August 5, 1832, Henry Livingston Webb wrote to “My Beloved French Girl,” as follows: “I have but a moment, my beloved Miss Delord, to say that Mr. Page takes this letter to you and that I hope you will let him commence his work at once. He is a clever artist – as a man I know but little of him and do not wish you to pay him much attention as a friend….Should any persons wish to employ him they can do so with confidence. I wish that I had his art. He should not then have the honor of watching the expression of your fine eyes. Give him your time at once as I hope soon to be with you.”
William Page (1811-1875) was an American painter. Born in Albany, he grew up in New York City, Northampton, Massachusetts and Rochester. He lived in Italy from 1849-1860. Page was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1837 and was its president from 1871-1873.
Next in the collection chronologically are two enamel on ceramic tile portraits of Frances Henrietta Delord Webb at the age of twenty. These miniatures were painted in England in 1833 by T. Lowe while Frances and Henry Livingston Webb were on their extended honeymoon. Frances and Henry Livingston were married in the Gold Parlor of her parents’ home on August 13, 1832.
Frances Henrietta kept a journal of their wedding trip to Europe, detailing the period from August 13, 1832 through April 20, 1833. Her journal begins as follows: “Monday. Left Plattsburgh the 13th of August. Accompanied by a few friends, arrived in Burlington late in the afternoon. The next morning bid adieu to my beloved and respected mother and father [William Swetland] with the prospect of not seeing them again for months. We immediately took the stage for Hartford, Connecticut, by way of Montpelier. We reached Hartford Thursday evening about 7 o’clock, meeting with a most cordial reception from our sisters. Our stay there was a most delightful one….The society of Hartford struck me as being uncommonly fine.”
On Saturday, September 1, Frances and Henry departed from New York for Le Harve on the vessel Rhone. “Our vessel is a very fine one with the best accommodations. We breakfast at nine, lunch at one, dine at 4 and tea at 7. Now I am ready to encounter all who maintain that our hours for eating are not in the height of fashion. It is 17 days since we left port, today being the first time that I have felt in the humor of taking pen in hand. Sad to relate that until a day past, I have been constantly sea sick.”
By October 11, Frances and Henry had reached Nismes, the place of Henry Delord’s birth. “Finally we have arrived at the place of our destination. We reached here about noon after a safe and pleasant ride from Lyons. We rode all last night. I feel the want of sleep though not much fatigued. I have seen our old family servant, Marguerite Michael. The poor creature kissed my hand weeping and saying, `Oh, Madamoiselle, est-ce-vous?’ Went to the dwelling of my dear aunt. Remained there some little time. On entering the room the first thing that caught my eye was the portrait of my dear father. My feelings I cannot describe. It is perfectly preserved as are the others. We stop at the hotel de Luxemburg opposite the boulevards where we see many persons promenading.”
The next day, Frances gave the portrait of herself as a young girl to Marguerite, who kept it until 1857, when she gave it to Frances’ daughter, Frances Delord Webb Hall, who was visiting Nismes on her own honeymoon. The portraits of Henry and Betsey Delord were boxed up and shipped back to Plattsburgh in January 1833. The three family portraits are now reunited and hang in the Gold Parlor, the site of Frances Henrietta’s wedding 175 years ago.
This watercolor on ivory miniature of Frances Delord Webb, the only child of Frances Henrietta and Henry Livingston Webb, was done in June of 1836. Frances Henrietta died in March of 1834, shortly after giving birth to her daughter. The baby girl was raised by her grandmother, Betsey Delord Swetland, and her aunt, Eliza B. Webb, portrayed in the watercolor miniature on the right.
Henry Livingston Webb wrote to Betsey Delord Swetland from Albany on June 13, 1836 as follows: “It was with pleasure, my dear Mother, that I received your favor of Saturday with the likeness of my child. It is like her, but has not the life of the child. I must confess that the painting is not as good as expected. It is not a fine painting. But I am happy to have it….The more I see of this painting the more I think it a good likeness. I am rejoiced it is taken & shall highly value it.”
Henry described Eliza’s house on Morgan Street in Hartford, Connecticut, in a letter to Betsey written in the spring of 1837: “The House is very clever, large, well built & very convenient…. Sister Eliza will take her [Frances] in special charge, will have a small bed at the side of hers & watch over her with a sister’s fondness. I hope you will be pleased with this & not say a word against it….I want my sisters to know more of my child….I am decided in my views & shall not consent to alter.”
Please visit the Museum to see the Miniatures!
Text and Photography by John Krueger