William Matthew Prior
Portraits of Mr. Greeley, Explorer and Mrs. Greeley: Two
Oil on board
20 3/4 x 16 3/4 inches and 20 7/8 x 17 7/8 inches
Thought to have descended in the family of the sitters, Newburyport, Massachusetts
Wayne Pratt, Woodbury, Connecticut
Private Collection, New York (2000)
These charming portraits are believed to represent Mr. and Mrs. Greeley, possibly of Newburyport, Massachusetts. A handwritten label on the back of one painting dates them to 1846, and refers to one of the subjects as a Mr. Greeley, who lived at the intersection of Fruit and High Streets, possibly placing them in Newburyport, Massachusetts, although the Greeleys may have traveled to Boston to have their portraits painted.
Art historian Jacquelyn Oaks writes that these paintings "are easily attributable to Prior and are done in his 'flatter' style, but with contour in the facial areas and roundness in the figures. The detail in the background of drapery and cording in the woman's portrait suggests that the Greeleys paid a premium for these paintings. During the 1840s, Prior advertised 'flat' likenesses for as little as $2.92, but these were clearly beyond that price. In 1846, the year in which these works may have been painted, Prior had just opened his studio which he called 'the Painting Garret' in East Boston; he did many portraits that are documented to that year. The size is typical of his work on board at the time. Mrs. Greeley is a lady 'of some years' and the cap is of a style worn by older women. I would date these somewhere in the late-1840s but, the costumes depicted could be somewhat later so the 1850s would not be out of the question.
The craquelure apparent on the gentleman's portrait indicates that the underground of paint was still wet when the artist applied subsequent layers, suggesting that he must have worked quickly. The size of the supports, the placement of the figures on the background, the quick brush strokes with which the forms are realized, and even the highlights in the eyes, are consistent with Prior's work."
Jacquelyn Oaks is guest curator of Artist, Businessman, and Visionary: William Matthew Prior Revealed, opening in May 2012 at Fenimore Art Museum of the New York State Historical Association at Cooperstown. We are grateful for her kind assistance in authenticating these portraits.
Additional Notes & Condition Report
Mrs. Greeley-Dense varnish layer. Very little craquelure. A few small scattered areas of inpaint in the background and along the edge. Two touches of inpaint to the face.
Both were not examined out of the frame.
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