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.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

“The Fictional Portrait” in Display in New York, 18 Mar.

Earlier this month the New York Times reported on an exhibit of two portraits in New York. The Jewish Museum received those paintings in the 1950s from an owner who understood them to be paired portraits of Judah and Jochabed Mears painted around 1740 by Jeremiah Theus of Charleston, South Carolina.

The paper reported:
Experts have concluded — based on recent tests including infrared scans, X-rays and pigment analysis — that the artworks were not painted by Mr. Theus, not produced in America and not originally a pair. The show’s curator, Stephen Brown, said scientific confirmation of the paintings’ dubiousness was not a surprise, since staff members “had questions about them for a long time.”

The provenance documents suggest that the paintings changed hands in the 1920s or ’30s under the auspices of Frank W. Bayley, a dealer and historian in Boston. He sometimes obtained inventory from the Manhattan dealers Augustus and Rose de Forest, who sought “family portraits over 70 years old” via newspaper want ads. The couple are now notorious for having created false family trees for people who had supposedly passed down particular paintings for generations. Mr. Bayley committed suicide in 1932 after learning that he had unwittingly sold fakes.
The Jewish Museum’s exhibit, “The Fictional Portrait,” will open on 18 March. In addition to these paintings, it includes other portraits and the paperwork involved in the case.

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