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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Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Norton on Benjamin Blyth in Boston, 9 Jan.

On Thursday, 9 January, the Boston Athenaeum will host a lecture by Bettina A. Norton on “A Foray into Forgery and the Boston Athenaeum’s Role in Exposing it.”

This talk concerns Benjamin Blyth (1746-1811), a portraitist from Salem best known for his mid-1760s pictures of John and Abigail Adams. In the Colonial Revival period, authors often eagerly identified Blyth’s pictures as John Singleton Copley’s, but they did that with every American artist who wasn’t Copley.

The event description says:
An over-zealous Boston art dealer in the early years of the 20th century made knowingly false attributions of 18th-century portraits from the Salem-Boston area. The attributions were promulgated by colleagues and later by art scholars until disproved by two other historians.
I can’t tell whether that means the dealer was identifying Blyth’s artwork as by other people, or other people’s artwork as by Blyth, or both. Presumably whatever worked best on the market.

In addition to the Adams portraits, scholars now credit Blyth with portraits of Abigail’s father, the Rev. William Smith; Gen. John Thomas; Lt. Gov. Azor Orne; Col. James Otis, Sr.; Loyalist judge Samuel Curwen; Salem merchants Richard Derby and his son, Elias Hasket Derby; Tea Party veteran Thomas Melvill; and Universalist minister Rev. John Murray, among others. Above is a portrait of Dr. Ezekiel Hersey, courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums.

Norton is preparing a book on Blyth that attributes more pastels, oils, and, for the first time, miniatures to him than previous studies. She has written books about other aspects of Boston art and architecture, and she was editor and publisher of The Beacon Hill Chronicle for several years.

This lecture will begin at 6:00 P.M. at the Athenaeum. After Norton speaks, attendees can visit the Vershbow Room upstairs to see Athenaeum documents that helped fill out the story. The event is free to members; admission for others is $15.


Mike said...

It's interesting how he has the slightest hint of a smile - smiling for portraits wasn't much of a thing until the 20th century.

Maria Daniels said...

Thank you for posting about this talk. I hope people will come by! The admission fee for visitors also admits people to the gallery and our Required Reading exhibition, featuring books that survived the Revolution in Boston as part of the King’s Chapel Library. That exhibition will run until mid-March.