A lost Copley found: The New York portrait of Captain Gabriel Maturin

Editorial Staff Art

from The Magazine ANTIQUES, November/December 2012 |

In the spring of 1771 John Singleton Copley had several good reasons to look south to New York for fresh fields to conquer. Although he had effectively joined the social ranks of his clientele by marrying into one of the leading Tory families of Boston and acquired a suitable gentleman’s estate on Beacon Hill, his new property required considerable investment while his portrait commissions had begun to slacken. Fortunately there was sufficient clamor for his talents in New York as a result of several of his paintings having established his reputation in the city.

Copley was also particularly fortunate in his connection to the pinnacle of New York society by having painted in 1768 a highly effective (and politicized) portrait of Major General the Honor­able Thomas Gage (1719-1787) during his brief visit to Boston in his capacity as commander in chief of His Majesty’s forces in America. Less than three years later it was the officers of Gage’s im­mediate headquarters staff in New York who persuaded Copley to take his first extended trip away from the town of his birth.

While Captain John Small flattered and cajoled Copley to come to New York, Captain Stephen Kemble, Gage’s aide-de-camp and brother-in-law, went about the practical business of securing sufficient portrait commissions so that “Mr. Copely might be at a certainty” in making the trip.1 After friends and colleagues had been canvassed, Kemble sent Copley in April 1771 what survives as the only known contemporary list of Copley’s sitters, in this case fifteen indi­viduals who “subscribed” for a total of sixteen portraits of stated sizes (see Fig. 2).2

Given its origins, the list naturally reflected the Anglo-American colonial administration centered in New York. Margaret Kemble Gage’s name appears first, while fourth down was the name “Captain Maturin.”3 Captain Gabriel Maturin, after having distinguished himself in action with his regiment at the Battle of Quebec, had been from 1760 General Gage’s military secretary and as such the general’s closest aide and effectively his chief of staff. As the grandson of a French Huguenot refugee to Ireland, Ga­briel Maturin had the requisite command of the French language required by Gage when he was appointed military governor of Montreal, but it was Maturin’s tact, charm, and discretion that made him an indispensible member of Gage’s command right up until Maturin’s death in Boston at the eve of the American Revolution. Like several of the portraits indicated on Copley’s New York subscriber list, that of Captain Maturin remained unlocated4 until this author was able to establish that a portrait acquired last May at auction in Philadelphia was indeed Copley’s missing original.

While the portrait had been traditionally identified by an old label as being of Walter Livingston (1740-1797) and painted by Copley, the attribution was evidently apocryphal, as Livingston, the first secretary of the United States Treasury, had never had occasion to wear a British uniform. An examination, however, of Jules Prown’s “Checklist of American Pictures” in his au­thoritative 1966 catalogue of Copley’s then-known works provided a vital clue that ultimately led to the identifica­tion of the portrait as Maturin’s. Included among Cop-ley’s New York portraits was a kit-cat sized portrait that included the name “Livingston” in its title, thus inviting further investigation. Prown listed and illustrated “mal­let, mrs. (Mary Livingston; 1748-1830). Oil on canvas, 36″ x 29 ¾”, 1771.” Mary Livingston Mallet’s portrait had a well-established provenance through her sister’s family, and had been dated to Copley’s New York visit by virtue of the fact that her husband, Dr. Jonathan Mallet, was the fifth name on Copley’s subscriber list. Mary belonged to the well-established New York Liv­ingston family, but because her husband was on the headquarters staff as chief surgeon of the British forces in America, they left New York in 1784 to join the many Loyalist exiles in London, never to return to Mary’s native home.

The critical historical detail that Prown and other Copley scholars had failed to note, however, was that Mary Livingston and Dr. Jonathan Mallet had not married until 1778. In 1771, when Copley painted Mary’s portrait in New York, she had in fact been married since 1765 to the man whose name immediately preceded Mallet’s on Copley’s subscriber list- Captain Gabriel Maturin.5

The corresponding features of both portraits quickly became apparent with the realization that the two paintings were in fact originally created as a pair. Both are of kit-cat size,6 and both share a similar background of an exterior scene in evening light with a large tree trunk leaning to the right. Both sitters share an identical forward position in relation to the picture plane to appear close to the viewer, and both have their eyes essentially on the same parallel plane. Both portraits also appear to share a similar presenta­tion and degree of finish.7 They also follow typical conven­tions among Copley’s husband and wife pairs in having both sitters facing the same direction with one engaging the viewer’s gaze while the other is lost in distant contem­plation,8 and in having one sitting and the other standing.9

Another key element in the identification process became apparent when it was recognized that the uni­form depicted in the portrait was unique to aides-de-camp to general officers in the British army of this period. The specific features that when worn in combi­nation denote an aide-de-camp include a scarlet coat with dark blue facings, narrow gold-laced buttonholes in pairs, plain flat gilt buttons,10 and a gold-laced ep­aulette on the right shoulder.11 A military secretary (such as Captain Maturin) was among a general’s aides-de-camp, and thus wore an aide-de-camp’s uniform. The depicted uniform can also be dated to the early 1770s by the cut of the collar, cuffs, and lapels, which in general conform to the royal clothing warrant of 1768.

Once the identification of the painting itself had been established, it was necessary to trace the provenance of Captain Maturin’s portrait on its ultimately separate path to that of his wife’s. Mary Livingston Mallet had had no children by either marriage. Prior to her death in 1830 she distributed her “worldly concerns”12 primarily to her sister Susannah Armstrong, in Trenton, New Jersey. Mary also left financial assets dating back to Captain Maturin’s 1770s investments in land in upstate New York to his next of kin, who by that time was his nephew the Reverend Henry Maturin (1771-1842), in Ireland. Fortunately, a manuscript genealogical “Pedigree of the Maturin Family”13 compiled in 1880 by his son, the Reverend Edmund Maturin (1819- 1891), was located in Eng-land, recording that Mary had also bequeathed Copley’s portrait of Captain Gabriel Maturin to Henry Maturin. Edmund Maturin’s family genealogical record, in addition to recording Gabriel’s military career and marriage, states: “His portrait was painted by the eminent artist, Mr. Cop-ley, of Boston, (father of the 1st Lord Lyndhurst), and it was formerly in the possession of the Rev. H. Maturin, of Fannet Glebe, to whom it was bequeathed by his Widow, who had been married, after the death of Capt. Maturin, to a Mr. Mallett, and died in London about 1830.” Edmund Maturin, who inherited the portrait from his father, Henry, in 1842, brought it from Ireland to New York in 1868 and evidently sold it to Oscar Livingston (1824- 1901). It then descended to Oscar’s nephew, R. Livingston Sullivan (1892-1970), who about 1950 gave it to Lieuten­ant General Milton G. Baker (1896-1976), the founder of the Valley Forge Military Academy, whose widow con­signed it to auction this past spring. The painting has re­cently been examined by Carrie Rebora Barratt of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Professor Paul Staiti of Mount Holyoke College, who have both confirmed that this is indeed Copley’s New York portrait of Captain

Gabriel Maturin. As such the discovery of this portrait presents a rare and important revelation of a recorded but previously unlocated portrait from one of the most important passages of Copley’s American career, as well as the image of a significant figure of the Brit­ish military administration in America during the preliminary stages of the American Revolution. The portrait also provides valuable insights into how Copley while still in America was evidently attempting to develop a mode of painting appropriate to an Eng­lish clientele, though without the benefit of much actual experience or awareness of how contemporary English oil portraits were painted or what they actu­ally looked like, as he was still working primarily from engravings. As William Rudolph, curator of Ameri­can art and decorative arts at the Milwaukee Museum of Art observes, “The picture is very striking because it forecasts Copley’s English style and has less of the spatial awkwardnesses of relatively contemporary portraits like his Mr. and Mrs. Mifflin (PMA) and Samuel Adams (MFA Boston).”

1 Letters and Papers of John Singleton Copley and Henry Pelham, 1739-1776, ed. Guernsey Jones (Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, 1914), p.112. 2 By Copley’s own statement he painted the equivalent of “37 Busts” during his stay in New York from June to December 1771 (ibid., p. 179). Writing to Captain Stephen Kemble on March 20, 1770, he explained his means of calculating that figure: “I may be able to engage 12 or 15 half Lengths, or in proportion to that, reck[on]ing whole Length as two half Length[s], and half Length Doub[le]the busts” (ibid., p.112). The ratio is mirrored by his quoted rates-“The pric[e] of Whole Lengths 40 Guineas, half Length 20, ¼ peices or Busts 10.” (Kit-cat sized portraits were presumably 1 ½ busts, at 15 guineas.) Using this ratio, one can calculate Copley’s claimed total of thirty-seven busts against the known surviving New York portraits, in addition to those indicated on the subscriber list, for a total of between twenty-four and twenty-six half-length, kit-cat, and bust-sized portraits. 3 There was no provision in the New York subscriber list for kit-cat size portraits, only busts and half-lengths. Gabriel Maturin noted “1” in the column for a bust portrait for his entry. The size indications in the list were not necessarily adhered to, however, as the Reverend John Ogilvie, who signed on for a 30 by 25 inch bust portrait, increased the size of his commission to a 50 by 40 inch half-length. 4 Jules David Prown, “Checklist of American Pic­tures” in his John Singleton Copley, Volume One, America (National Gallery of Art, Washington and Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1966) lists “maturin, gabriel. c. 30″ x 25″. Unlocated.” 5 Left a widow by the death of Captain Maturin in Boston from pneu­monia in December 1774, Mary remarried within her close social cir­cle after Jonathan Mallet’s wife (another New Yorker – Catherine Kennedy) died in 1777. 6 From Copley’s 1771 New York visit two other kit-cat size portraits are known – Gulian Verplanck, 1771 (Met­ropolitan Museum of Art) and Lady in a Yellow Dress, 1771 (Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma). On June 16, 1771, Henry Pel­ham, Copley’s stepbrother and business manager, sent to London for various painting supplies, including “12 half Length Cloths. 6 kitkat Do.” required by Copley in New York (Letters and Papers of John Sin­gleton Copley and Henry Pelham, p. 115). 7 Copley’s portrait of Mary Livingston Maturin/Mallet was last noted as being with Knoedler Galleries, New York, c. 1981. 8 See Captain John Montresor (Detroit Institute of Arts) and Mrs. John Montresor (private collection), both painted in New York, 1771. 9 Janet L. Comey, entry for Theodore At­kinson Jr., in Carrie Rebora et al., John Singleton Copley in America (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1995), p. 180. 10 In 1767 George III had ordered that all British regiments adopt a regimental pattern button, marked with the number of the regiment. Copley was a sufficiently careful observer to note such details, and his portrayal of General Gage’s uniform coat included a clearly recognizable depiction of the specific design of button worn at that time by generals and some specific ranks of the staff. The uniforms of aides-de-camp, the First Guards, Royal Artillery, and the Engineers were unique in the British army of this period in having no regimental or distinctive design on the buttons, but had instead a plain, flat burnished gilt surface. 11 See the portrait miniature by Jeremiah Meyer of Captain Sir Francis Clerke, aide-de-camp to Lieutenant General Burgoyne, c. 1776, sold at Bon­hams November 22, 2006. Also Major N.P. Dawnay, “The Staff Uni­form of the British Army 1767 to 1855,” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, vol. 31 (1953), pp. 96-109. 12 Katherine Mallet, on her stepmother Mary Livingston Mallet’s behalf, to Maturin Livings­ton (Mary’s brother), September 22, 1829, Maturin Livingston Delafield Papers, Princeton University Library. 13 In the possession of Anne Osborne, Ringwood, Hampshire, U. K., a Maturin descendant.

CHRISTOPHER BRYANT is a dealer and researcher of his­torical portraits and artifacts, with a particular focus on military subjects, especially of the British army. He resides in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts.