J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mary Livingston Maturin Mallett

For many years, the John Singleton Copley portrait I showed yesterday was tentatively identified as showing William Livingston (1723-1790), wartime governor of New Jersey and signer of the Constitution.

That was probably because in the late 1800s it was owned by a New Yorker named Livingston. Another possible connection lay in how that portrait’s frame matched one around Copley’s portrait of a woman named Mary Mallett, born Mary Livingston in New York.

However, the man in the portrait wears the coat of a British army aide-de-camp, and William Livingston never held any rank in the British army. Furthermore, other portraits of Gov. Livingston suggest he looked nothing like this man. So who was in the Copley portrait?

As Christopher Bryant described in his 2012 article, the key to this mystery was genealogy. The woman born Mary Livingston married Dr. Jonathan Mallett, an American surgeon attached to British army, in 1778. But before then, from 1765 to 1774, she had been married to Capt. Gabriel Maturin, military secretary (and thus an aide) to Gen. Thomas Gage.

At the end of the Revolutionary War, the Malletts evidently sailed for Britain with three canvases Copley had painted in 1771, portraits of the surgeon, his wife, and the late Capt. Maturin—i.e., her first husband. After being widowed a second time, Mary Mallett sent her own portrait to her sister in New Jersey and gave her husband’s portrait to one of his nephews, who gave it to a brother, who brought it to America. Then, apparently by coincidence, that Maturin sold the captain’s portrait to a man named Livingston.

Bryant made a convincing case that Copley had painted a matching pair of portraits for the Maturins, a pair that was (like the couple themselves) separated by circumstance. Is it possible to reunite them?

The Mary Mallett painting hasn’t been seen publicly since the early 1980s, when the Chrysler Museum deaccessioned it. (Its frame had already been removed to put around another portrait.) The Gabriel Maturin portrait is scheduled to be auctioned in New York by Bonhams on 21 May, with an estimated price above half a million dollars.

[Recreation of the Mallett painting in its original frame courtesy of Maturin.org.]

No comments: