Artifact Corner: Portraits by Ezra Ames

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another Artifact Corner. Today we will be looking at two portraits painted in 1812. These portraits are of the Webb brothers, Thomas and Joseph. Thy are the brothers of Henry Webb, who married our Frances Henrietta Delord. Their daughter, Fannie Delord Webb Hall inherited her father’s estate, and these two portraits were a part of it. Both of these painting were done in 1812 by the artist Ezra Ames. Ames’ portraits are in The National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Zimmerli Art Museum. Ames is a fantastic early American portrait artist. Let’s learn a bit more about Ames.

Ezra Ames was born in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1768. He began his carrier as a carriage painter, but quickly began to diversify his talents. He learned miniature portrait painting as well as engraving. By 1790 he was working in Worcester, Massachusetts, taking literally any job that he could get. He was taking commissions and painting things like fire buckets, ear trumpets, fences, mirror frames, drums, clock faces, and various items of furniture. By 1793, it became clear that there was not enough work for Ames in Massachusetts. So, he moved to Albany, NY. Thankfully, there were not many other portrait artists in Albany, and Ames had plenty of work.

In 1794 Ames married a woman named Zipporah Wood, and settled into life in Albany. He started to get recognition for his works, and therefore more prominent clients. He was unofficially known as the “official” New York State Portrait painter. He painted the wealthy of New York, as well as legislators and even Alexander Hamilton. The Chautauqan Magazine describes his importance in this way; “(he) was the most noted portraitist in the state, outside New York city. The sure and fluent ease of his brush, his keen characterization, his pure, fresh coloring, are all remarkable for this early period. His portrait of Governor George Clinton, exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1812, won him wide notice; but he did delightful work some years earlier, and many even finer canvases are scattered through the middle states, in private hands.” Ames continued to paint until about 1820, when he slowly worked into retirement. He passed away in 1836, leaving behind three children, two of whom also became artists. He is buried in the Albany Rural Cemetery.

Our portraits were painted of two of the Webb brothers when they were merchants in Albany. Sadly, both of the brothers passed away shortly after these portraits of them were painted, and are the last images we have of Joseph and Thomas. These are both beautiful examples of early American portraiture, and we are so fortunate to have them in our collections. If you’d like to see more of the amazing artwork in our collections, the museum is now open for tours Fridays and Saturdays from 10 to 3. We hope you enjoyed this look at these beautiful portraits. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,