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: Gift of Stuart Portrait and American Glass from Heirs to the Estate of Mrs. Vernon A. Wright


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Institute has lately had the good fortune to receive, from the heirs to the estate to Mrs. Vernon A. Wright, a fine early nineteenth-century portrait by Gilbert Stuart and a large group of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American glass. In making this gift, Thomas Clarke Wright, Cyrus Gordon Wright, Lucy Wright Elmendorf, and Ann Wright Meerkerk have in turn displayed the generosity which was one of their mother’s outstanding qualities. The additions thus made to the American collections are especially welcome, for they perpetuate in the museum a long and pleasant association with one whose interest in the Institute was manifested in numerous ways. Mrs. Wright’s enthusiasm, loyalty, and support were unfailing. When she was not on hand to express them in person she did so through the loans often and generously made from her collection. Among them were the Stuart portrait of Alexander Townsend and portions of the glass collection which have now come permanently to the Institute. To many members they will therefore not be strangers.The portrait of Alexander Townsend is one of Stuart’s most appealing works. Painted in Boston in 1809, it reveals a simplicity and sobriety quite at variance with the Institute’s two more elaborate portraits done during the artist’s stay in England. In this example Stuart displays his ability to satisfy, without sacrificing any of his integrity as an artist, a sterner taste than that he met in England. The portrait is beautifully painted and is distinguished by the luminous, clear flesh tints that made Stuart the despair of other artists of his time.The character of the subject has been grasped with a directness and conviction that must have made this an eminently satisfying portrait to everyone concerned. It represents young Townsend seven years after his graduation from Harvard. He is shown seated in an armchair, his face turned toward the spectator, his left hand holding a book closed over his first finger. His black coat is buttoned over a ruffled white shirt finished at the collar with a broad neck cloth. The rosy color in his cheeks, the glint of amusement in his dark blue eyes, and the casual arrangement of his sandy hair contribute liveliness and charm to an otherwise sober rendering.Stuart’s willingness to paint portraits marked by dignity and simplicity rather than by high fashion probably contributed to his continued popularity as a portraitist until his death in 1828. The temper of the country at that time did not encourage the English type of portrait which had been fashionable both in the North and the South, and Stuart had the good sense to go along with the change in taste. The conviction with which portraits such as this are done indicates, moreover, that the change was not unwelcome to him.The century then opening was to be marked by the expression of national character in many other fields. One of them was the manufacturing of glass, which like all other aspects of colonial life had been deeply—and naturally—influenced by English and Continental taste. The collection of American glass from the Wright estate illustrates the course of this art in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America. It numbers approximately a hundred pieces, of which the largest single type represented is the blown three mold. Other examples come from the South Jersey, Stiegel, and Sandwich glass houses, and from unidentified glass centers in the New York, Pittsburgh, and Midwestern areas. Types of glass included are blown, mold blown, engraved, enameled, blown three mold, cut and pressed. Types of vessels include wine glasses, decanters, pitchers of all sizes, flip glasses, celery vases, mugs, flasks, bowls, jars, sugar bowls, tumblers, and mustard pots.The most unusual example in the group is an elaborate wig stand made at the Sandwich works. It represents the work of an individual blower and was probably executed as a special order. The brilliance of the clear glass is heightened by the strawberry prunts which decorate the graduated ball knobs making up the stem. The ball finial at the top served as the support for a miniature cushion on which the wig was placed.One of the earliest pieces is the eighteenth-century Stiegel type flip glass shown on page 24. This is the characteristic slender, clear glass, paneled form with a band of shallow engraved decoration at the top. It is about seven inches high and is one of a graduated series in the same pattern. A handsome celery vase of lead glass illustrates and interesting variation of the gadrooned band usually appearing on the lower part of the bowl of this type. Instead of being vertical, the gadrooning superimposed on a layer of metal is swirled gracefully about the lower body. This same variation, which seems to have existed in South Jersey, occurs also on a charming, long necked lead glass pitcher. This, however, probably originated in Zanesville, since it has the petalled base generally associated with the Ohio site. The celery glass may be a Maryland product.The pitcher illustrated on this page is an example of the blown three mold ware introduced about 1820. The glass for this ware was blown in a full size mold that formed both the shape and the pattern. This glass, launched in competition with the wheelcut blown glass imported from England and Ireland, attained immediate and wide popularity. Examples of the geometric, arch, and Baroque designs are included in the present collection. The pitcher shown is in clear flint glass with a band of diamond diapering between two bands of vertical ribbing. This, the most popular of all blown three mold pattern, appears on numerous pieces in the group.Among them is a clear flint glass decanter with three molded neck rings and a stopper of diamond and ribbed design. One of the many sunburst patterns occurs on a mug with an ear shaped handle. Since this form is not common in the blown three mold ware, the Institute is fortunate in having an example of it. These designs are typical of the geometric group, which includes numerous patterns of ribs, diamonds, and sunbursts, all combined in various ways. The Baroque group represents the most elaborate of the three styles, with scrolls, heart forms, and palmettes executed in high relief. The arch style of blown three mold is distinguished by arched shape motifs.This group of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century glass is a welcome and valuable addition to the American collection. Despite the fact that identification of the houses from which it came is still uncertain, even among those who have spent their lives in the study of American glass, it will be of great interest to the many collectors in this region.Referenced Works of Art
  1. Portrait of Alexander Townsend by Gilbert Stuart, American, 1754-1828
    Gift from the heirs to the estate of Mrs. Vernon A. Wright.
  2. Blown glass Sandwich wig stand. Gift from heirs to the Wright estate.
  3. Group of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American glass
    Gift from the heirs to the estate of Mrs. Vernon A. Wright.
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Source: "Gift of Stuart Portrait and American Glass from Heirs to the Estate of Mrs. Vernon A. Wright," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 41, no. 5 (February, 1952): 22-24.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009