Strobel, Louisa Caroline - portrait of William George Bicknell

There were very few American female miniature painters before 1830 and even fewer American female artists of that period who worked outside USA. In fact, this miniature portrait may be the oldest miniature portrait by a female American artist painted outside USA.

The miniature is signed "Louisa C Strobel" for Louisa Caroline Strobel (1806-3 Apr 1883) who was born in Liverpool to American parents, Daniel Strobel Jr (9 Mar 1768-30 Nov 1839) and Ann Church (c1772-?) who were married on 14 Aug 1796 at the British Factory Chaplaincy, Lisboa, Portugal, when Daniel was the first American Minister to Portugal. (For those interested, paintings of Louisa's grandparents. Daniel Strobel Sr (1734-1806) and Mary Elizabetha Martin (1732-1807), can be seen at ) Being diplomatic staff, the family returned to the United States in 1812 on the outbreak of war with Great Britain, when Louisa was aged six. After the war, they moved to Bordeaux in France where her father was the American Consul between 1815 and 1824, until replaced by his son George Strobel, seen here on his mother's knee.

Louisa's father, Daniel Strobel Jr and her mother, appear in these portraits by John Vanderlyn. There has been some confusion over Louisa's middle name and birth date. Most sources including the Metropolitan Museum quote her name as Louisa Catherine Strobel born in 1803, but the IGI records her name as Louisa Caroline Strobel with her birth date as 4 Feb 1806 and her christening as 14 October 1808, the same christening date as her elder sister. Several 19C sources also record her name as Louisa Caroline Strobel and hence this is believed correct.

One of the miniatures in the CAA Collection is of Anna Strobel (Mrs Bicknell) an older sister of Louisa, who married a member of the British Legation. The Collection of the Carolina Art Association owns several family miniatures and speculates; "Where Strobel obtained skill at painting miniatures is not known, but she may have trained with a French artist."

Fortuitously, the miniature of Anna's husband has now emerged and confirms that, as it is demonstrably French in style. Being round, it is even more French than other miniatures by Lousia Strobel which are all oval or rectangular.

The portrait is of William George Bicknell who married Ann Elizabeth Strobel on 24 May 1827 at the British Embassy Chapel, in Paris, France. The reverse is inscribed;
"Born 1797- died 1877
William George Bicknell married Miss Strobel
of USA (S Carolina) daughter of a clergyman.
1st cousin of my gt-grandmother
Emma Georgiana Marescaux".

It therefore seems it was painted in 1827 at the time of Anna's wedding and is probably the earliest surviving work by Louisa.

Ann Elizabeth Strobel was born on 29 December 1801 at Liverpool and was christened there on 14 October 1808. Unfortunately, an opportunity to purchase a miniature portrait of Ann was recently missed. It was unsigned, but appears to have been by Louisa Strobel. It sold at Keys Pictures Auction on 8 October 2010 and was described as Lot 257. 19TH CENTURY ENGLISH SCHOOL, MINIATURE, Portrait of Mrs William George Bicknell, 3" x 3"100-120 - This Item Realised £140" The image can be seen at

William George Bicknell seems to have had a patent granted in 1850;
"William George Bicknell of No 10 Essex-street Strand and James Reginald Torin Graham of the Grove Clapham-common of an Extension of Letters Patent, granted by His late Majesty King William the Fourth, to Miles Berry, of Chancery-lane, for Certain improvements in machinery or apparatus for cleaning purifying and drying wheat or other grain or seeds for the term of six years. Sealed June 7 1850."

And Volume II of Lives of the Most Eminent Foreign Statesmen by G P R James, published in 1836, has a dedication to him as W G Bicknell.

Louisa returned to the United States in 1830 and married on July 1, 1841. She mainly painted family members and reportedly did not paint miniatures after her marriage. Her husband was Rev Benjamin Nicholas Martin (1816-26 Dec, 1883), who was ten years younger than her. He was a graduate of Yale College in 1837 and succeeded Mr Danforth as the eighth pastor of the First Religious Society at Hadley. He was ordained Jan 19 1843 and one report claims he was dismissed on June 9 1847. However, it seems dismissed may just mean resigned, as another report says that he resigned in 1847 "as the climate of Hadley proved unsuited to Mrs Martin's health" to become Pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Albany. In 1852 he became Professor of Rhetoric and Intellectual Philosophy at the University of the City of New York. "At the time of the infamous New York Riots, July, 1863, a notable instance of his courage for the right appeared when he stood with two or three others in defense of a hunted negro in the face of a crowd of excited pursuers, and rescued him from threatened death."

On his 1883 death nine months after Louisa, it was reported the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Nicholas Martin, Professor of Logic and Intellectual and Moral Philosophy in the University of the city of New York, died recently at his home in this city of acute bronchitis. He was very popular with the students, and worked hard for the interests of the University. He was the author of many theological essays and of several books. Louisa and Benjamin were both buried at New Haven alongside Louisa's father and brother.

Louisa and Benjamin had an only son, Daniel Strobel Martin, born June 30, 1842 at NYC. He attained his Ph.D in 1881 and taught Geology at Rutgers and Cooper Union. On his death he bequeathed six Strobel family portraits to the CAA. There are also five miniatures, mainly of family members, by her in the Metropolitan Museum. One further miniature attributed to Louisa is of Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams, wife of President John Quincy Adams.

Louisa's works are thus rare although there is one other miniature by her in this collection. It is signed Louisa C Strobel on the right hand edge. It is of a young lady in a white dress as showing here, and judging by the hair and clothes, it must date close to 1840.

The two miniatures therefore represent examples from the beginning and the end of her short career. 218, 1393

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