I’m skeptical of most things from the Revolution that aren’t clearly contemporaneous, and some that are. I was therefore skeptical about the authenticity of this portrait. As Skinner says, it’s the only known painting credited to Paul Revere. For his engravings he relied on other artists like Christian Remick and Henry Pelham, or he copied prints from Britain. Even that note on the back of this picture’s frame says:
The portrait is a really creditable piece of painting, revealing the facial evidences of individual character, a work that must enhance his artistic reputation, at present resting upon the various engraved Views in which the figures barely escape caricature.Yet the draftsmanship is neither so competent nor so incompetent as to indicate, at least to these untrained eyes, whether it’s authentic. If George W. Bush can take up painting in retirement, why couldn’t Revere?
On the other hand, if the only thing connecting this artwork to Revere is his signature, I figured I should take a hard look at that. I went looking for other examples of Revere’s signature, and found variations over time.
Here’s how Revere signed the 1767 non-consumption agreement recently digitized at Harvard’s Houghton Library:
Massachusetts Historical Society:
American Antiquarian Society.
And, of course, someone else writing Revere’s name on this watercolor could have found similar examples to copy.
In sum, I was hoping to find definitive evidence to confirm or allay my skepticism about this painting, and I didn’t find it in the signature.
TOMORROW: Peeking inside the frame.