Monday

Vanderlyn, John - portrait of Mrs John Sanders van Rensselaer

The miniature portrait depicted here is still being researched, but the detective work involved has been quite fascinating and shows the great benefit from learning the name of a sitter. It was advertised as;

Attributed to John Vanderlyn (1811-1819) - Miniature framed portrait of Mrs. John Von Reumelear [sic] as noted on back of frame along with handwriting that matches that of John Vanderlyn and dated 181? - so this portrait was painted between 1810 and 1819 (during the time John Vanderlyn was working in Paris). This painting has not been formally authenticated but is attributed to John Vanderlyn and is done in his style and quality (handwriting on back matches John Vanderlyn's handwriting as depicted in other records). A rare find!


The vendor provided the handwriting link before the close of the auction, but a comparison with the writing on the reverse was not convincing. On the face of it, the style looks French, as does the frame, and it was suggested it was painted in France. Hence it was initially difficult to be confident that it could be classified as American. The rest of the information given by the vendor was helpful, but also a bit off-putting, which seems to have discouraged collectors of American miniatures from bidding.

However, the importance of writing on the reverse was revealed, as it was possible to work out that the writing was in English. Then that Mrs John Von Reumelear in fact read as Mrs John S van Rensselaer. The van Rensselaer family was one of the wealthiest families in New York and is still well known.

Some Internet research then revealed that the wife of John Sanders van Rensselaer was Ann Dunkin, which fitted with the name written at the top which had previously seemed illegible. One word of the top inscription is still illegible, but the following can be read; "Ann Dunkin - wife of - John S van Rensselaer - Learnt (?L ent?) by Mrs John S v......... 181." and then what looks like the top of an exhibition label; "Artist - John Vanderlyn - Title Mrs John van Rensselaer". Presumably the bottom of the label recorded the owner.

The ancestors of Ann Dunkin and her husband
Ann Dunkin was born c1795, the daughter and only child of Robert Henry Dunkin (13 Dec 1769-26 July 1808) and Elizabeth Watkins who were married in New York at Trinity Church Parish on 20 December 1792. According to the Annals of Albany, Ann died on 8 April 1845. Ann's father appears to have attended the University of Pennsylvania in 1784 and was a member of the Philadelphia Bar, admitted to practice in 1791. He was later a Notary Public in Philadelphia. Ann's grandmother was born in Coleraine, Ireland, on June 4, 1740. Her father, was John Henry, b. in 1700, who was a prominent merchant in Coleraine. They were also owners of three merchant ships engaged in visiting northern seaports and Dublin, and carrying emigrants to America. John Henry married Ann Hamilton, daughter of Gadson Hamilton, of Coleraine. She was born in 1700 and they had at least three children: Samuel, Hugh, and Ann who married Robert Dunkin. Ann emigrated to America with her brother, Hugh Henry, who left Londonderry Oct. 22, 1765, on the packet ship Jupiter, commanded by his uncle, Captain Hamilton, and arriving in Philadelphia, Dec. 9, 1765. Reputedly, Mrs Ann Dunkin brought a great amount of family plate from Ireland and lived in great elegance. While living in Philadelphia, she is said to have entertained George Washington and other noted persons. She died June 20, 1832, and was buried in the burying ground of the old Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

Young Ann Dunkin's husband, General John Sanders van Rensselaer (1792-1868) was part of a large and very wealthy family, his father being  Kiliaen K. Van Rensselaer (1763-1848) and his grandfather being Colonel Kiliaen van Rensselaer (1717-1781). His obituary recorded;
In the death of General John S. Van Rensselaer, Albany loses a citizen who has been conspicuous in its society during a long life-time — a representative of one of the old Dutch families that founded our city and state. His father, Kiilian K. Van Rensselaer, represented this county for five terms in the house of representatives. Three of his uncles served in the Revolutionary war. Nicholas Van Rensselaer was an aid to Schuyler, Philip was quartermaster, and Henry K., colonel. Gen John S, just deceased, though a young man, not yet of age, served in the War of 1812 as aid on the staff of Gen. Brown, and rendered some valuable services. His identification with this period of our national history made him in later years the representative and champion of the surviving veterans when their chums for services came before the country. He was military secretary and confidential aid of Gov. De Witt Clinton during his administration. He was educated to the bar, and was appointed judge of the county, but he did not closely pursue the profession of the law. For a while he edited the Albany Daily Advertiser, an influential paper; and took a prominent part in the political struggles of the day. But he was never led by party attachment to forget his obligations to the country. He was a warm-hearted patriot, and loved the constitution and government of his fathers, and dreaded the perils to which they were exposed, and allied himself to those who defended them. He was a public-spirited citizen, and warmly identified himself with whatever would add to the fame or progress of Albany. He had in his composition none of the phlegm, which is supposed to characterize the people of Holland; but was remarkable for vivacity of expression and manner, and a generous impulsiveness. His well-stored mind, and his wide communion with men and active participation in events, made his conversation as instructive as agreeable. And he retained to the close of his life the animation, and joyous and gallant spirit of his youth.

More research revealed that the family is well documented in a book titled, "Annals of the Van Rensselaers in the United States, especially as they relate to the family of Killian K. Van Rensselaer ". This book was written by a son of the sitter, Maunsell van Rensselaer (1819-1900).

It is rare to find such detailed information about a sitter in a miniature portrait, as Maunsell records in the book;
An allusion in the previous letter explains how my father became acquainted with my mother. His favorite cousin, Catharine Sanders, had married Mr. Gerard Beekman of New York, and her sister-in-law, Mrs James Beekman, had a beautiful niece named Ann Dunkin. She was the only daughter of Robert Henry Dunkin of Philadelphia, and Elizabeth, daughter of John Watkins of Harlem Heights. Her father was dead, and, although her home was in Philadelphia, where her grandmother, Mrs Ann Dunkin, resided, she spent much of her time with her grandmother, Mrs Watkins, at Harlem, and with her great-aunt at the same place, the widow of Lieutenant-General Maunsell. 

Her aunt Beekman lived near them in " The Vale " under " Breakneck Hill," before Mr Beekman succeeded to " The Mount." The circle of relatives and neighbors was large, embracing the Watkinses, the Bradhursts, the Schieffelins, the Hamiltons, the Moores, the Clarks and others who have passed away. The intercourse between the country and the city was frequent, and during one of his visits to his cousin in town the acquaintance was formed which ripened into an attachment and engagement, which gave great satisfaction to the kindred on both sides. My mother was a great favorite with all for her amiable disposition and engaging qualities.

Being the only granddaughter of Mrs Ann Dunkin, after whom she had been named, she was especially cherished by her, and had been given the best advantages which her native city, Philadelphia, afforded — and they were not small even at that day — including instruction in the mysteries of the housewife and the arts of the pastry-cook. She wrote a remarkable distinct and lady-like hand, and her letters were models of clearness, sincerity and good sense. In these qualities they reflected her own character; she was so sincere and guileless that she could not understand insincerity in others; and she was so filled with goodwill and kindliness to all that she could not appreciate the malice and ill-will of some. 

They were married in Philadelphia, March 12, 1816, and took up their residence in Albany in a two-story house on the north side of Washington street between Hawk and Swan streets, where their first child was born August 1, 1817, and christened Dunkin Henry, causing great joy in all the branches of the family, and awakening a wide-spread interest amongst their numerous friends.

There was ultimately a large family, of whom descendants must still be alive today. Maunsell also describes Ann's grandmother, Mrs Ann Dunkin (1759-5 June 1852) ;
Mrs Ann Dunkin, in Philadelphia, was the widow of Lieutenant Robert Dunkin of the British navy, who had died on service in 1776, leaving her with two sons [John, died 1790 and Robert Henry]. His brother, Sir William Dunkin, [of Clogher] was one of the justices of the King's bench at Calcutta, and corresponded frequently with his nephew, my grandfather. She was a woman of remarkable character and intelligence, filled with Irish humor and vivacity, goodness and kindness, an earnest Christian, without cant, and passionately fond of her granddaughter and her children.


Grandmother, Mrs Ann Dunkin
It is likely that Robert Dunkin and Sir William Dunkin were born in Bengal, India in around 1737.
Showing here is the front door of the house of Mrs Ann Dunkin in Philadelphia. As will be shown below, it is very likely that the house was purchased with her late husband's prize money, as a British naval officer on HMS Milford, earned from capturing American ships during the War of Independence. Her purchase record is likely as follows; [D#20-476: Sheriff Deed. William Will, Sheriff for City and Co. of Philadelphia, to Ann Dunkin, goods and chattels of John Galloway decd, building and lot on 2nd Street, etc., sold per mortgage (heirs not named), sold on 7 Nov. 1783 to Ann Dunkin, widow, the highest bidder, for 1,420 pounds. Rec. 4 April 1789. (FHL film 21,916)]  It seems likely that Mrs Ann Dunkin later decided to sell the house in 1817 as her only heir, young Ann Dunkin, had married in 1816 and moved to live in Albany. It was at 225 South Eighth Street and it is still there, currently understood to be a boutique hotel, Morris House Hotel. The house was described in the early 20C as;

By far the handsomest old city residence of brick that remains in anything like its original condition is the so-called Morris house at Number 225 South Eighth Street between Walnut and Spruce streets. Although not built until very shortly after the struggle for American independence had been won, it is pre-Revolutionary in character and Colonial in style throughout. In elegance and distinction the fa├žade is unexcelled in early American city architecture. Unlike most houses of the time and locality, it has a double front with two windows each side of a central doorway, a range of five windows on the second and third floors and three simple dormers in the gable roof above. The windows have twelve-paned upper and lower sashes with paneled shutters on the first and second stories, and foreshortened eight-paned upper and lower sashes without shutters on the third story.

The brickwork is of characteristic Flemish bond with alternating red stretcher and black header bricks. Two slightly projecting courses, two courses apart, form horizontal belts at the second-and third-floor levels, while the first thirteen courses above the sidewalk level project somewhat beyond the wall above and are laid up in running bond, every sixth course being a tie course of headers. Beautifully tooled, light stone lintels with fine-scale radial scorings greatly enhance the beauty of the fenestration. Each lintel appears to consist of seven gauged or keyed pieces each, but is in reality a single stone, the effect being secured by deep scorings. A heavy molded cornice and handsome gutter spouts complete the decorative features apart from the chaste pedimental doorway with its fluted pilasters and dainty fanlight, which is mentioned again in another chapter. A rolling way and areaways at the basement windows pierce the wall at the sidewalk level after the manner of the time. Indoors, the hall extends entirely through the house to a door in the rear opening upon a box-bordered garden with rose trees and old-fashioned flowers. There is a parlor on the right of the hall and a library on the left. Back of the latter is the dining room, while the kitchen and service portion of the house are located in an L extension to the rear.

As indicated by two marble date stones set in the third-story front wall just below the cornice, this house was begun in 1786 and finished in 1787 by John Reynolds. Some years later it was purchased at a sheriff's sale by Ann Dunkin, who sold it in 1817 to Luke Wistar Morris, the son of Captain Samuel Morris [probably a relation of Mrs Dunkin's sister-in-law, Phoebe Morris]. Since that time it has remained in the Morris family, and its occupants have maintained it in splendid condition. Much beautiful old furniture, silver and china adorn the interior, most of the pieces having individual histories of interest; in fact, the place has become a veritable museum of Morris and Wistar heirlooms.


The Newark Museum has very kindly consented to the display here of a miniature in its collection, of Mrs Ann Dunkin by Robert Fulton (1765-1815). The museum notes that "our Fulton/Dunkin was clearly painted in a gold setting, later set into a wooden frame". The miniature dates to c1786 and the similarity of style of the miniature itself, especially the pose, nose, and mouth, with a Fulton miniature in this collection of an unknown man still in its original setting, is apparent.1104

Mrs Ann Dunkin is a good illustration of how families were disrupted by the War of Independence. Her brother, Hugh Henry, in 1767, two years after his arrival in Philadelphia, was an elder in the First Presbyterian Church, and on May 4, 1769, he married Phoebe Morris, daughter of Robert Morris, a Philadelphia Quaker, and sister of the Robert Morris, who was afterward financier of the American Revolution. He took the Oath of Fidelity Sept. 21, 1777. In contrast the husband of Mrs Ann Dunkin was a serving officer in the British navy.

Prize money
Further research suggested that Lieutenant Dunkin had become wealthy from prize money earned while serving in the Navy. His ship was HMS Milford a 28-gun sixth rate launched in 1759 and sold in 1785. The 1781 rules for division of prize money were set down in detail, see Distribution of Prize Money   In summary the relevant regulations provided;
We have ordered that the General Reprizals be granted ... so that as well Our Fleet and ships, as also all other Ships and Vessels that shall be commissioned ... may lawfully seize all Ships, Vessels, and Goods, belonging to the States General of the United Provinces, or their Subjects ... and bring the same to Judgment in any of Our Courts of Admiralty within Our Dominion: We, being desirous to give due Encouragement to all Our faithful Subjects who shall lawfully seize the same... do now make known to all Our loving Subjects, and all others whom it may concern ... We do hereby further order and direct, that the Neat Produce of all Prizes which are or shall be taken by any of Our Ships or Vessels of War, shall be for the entire Benefit and Encouragement of Our Flag Officers, Captains, Commanders, and other Commissioned Officers in Our Pay, and of the Seamen, Marines, and Soldiers, on Board Our said Ships and Vessels at the Time of the Capture; and that such Prizes may be lawfully sold and disposed of by them and their Agents. ... The Distribution shall be made as follows ; the Whole of the Neat Produce being first divided into Eight equal Parts.

Lieutenant Dunkin did very well out of this prize money, as the division was that; the Captain shall have Three Eighth Parts. and the Sea Lieutenants shall have One Eighth part, to be equally divided amongst them. Prize money being earned through the following incidents, recording captures of American vessels named A-D and H-I by the Milford, presumably representative of a much longer list of captures by the Milford from A-Z!

Beggars Benison, PA/MD schooner, LM, 4 guns 17 men, Capt Samuel Smallcorn, Jun 1777, captured by British Milford.
Bella, British vessel, Capt Smith, from Halifax to Port Medway and Liverpool, cut out of Port Medway by an American privateer, 20 Sep 1776. British vessel, Capt Smith, Halifax to Liverpool, taken by Americans and retaken by British Milford, 26 Mar 1777.
Betsey, schooner, Capt Ross, captured by Milford, 4 Dec 1777. Probably the reported British sloop captured in early 1778 by the CT state schooner Mifflin, Capt John Kerr.
Betsey, American sloop captured in 1777 by British Milford.
Britania, approved by MA General Assembly for fitting out 3 June 1776, sloop of this name captured by British Milford, 2 Oct 1776.
Britannia, American sloop captured off Cape Ann about 23 Apr 1776 13 Jul 1776 by the HMS Milford and sent to Halifax.
Cabot, 14 guns, 80 men, 1775-77. Continental brig assigned to the New Providence Expedition, Capt Elisha Hinman, Nov 1776, with 90 seamen and 43 Marines, other captains were John B. Hopkins, and Joseph Olney. Participated in attack on HMS Glasgow, a 14 gun brig. Capt Joseph Olney, was captured by the British Milford, Capt John Burr, on 23 Mar 1777, sent to Halifax, and the Cabot converted into Royal Navy use. The British renamed it the HM Cabot.
Carolina. British vessel, Capt Dennis, Jamaica to London, captured by Americans in 1776 but recaptured by the British Milford.
Crawford. American brig captured by HMS Milford, 4 Apr 1776.
Diana. British transport, Capt Brown, from London (to Halifax), taken by Americans, and retaken by British Milford, 2 Oct 1776.
Dolphin. MA privateer schooner, 10 guns, 60 men, under Edward Fettyplace, Jr from 26 May 1777, captured by British Milford. It captured British vessels Diana, Edward, Fanny, Salisbury, Wilson, and helped capture the Betsey, before it was itself captured by the Milford, on the coast of Nova Scotia, 4 Oct 1777. Crewmen are listed in MAS. Owners were Samuel R. Gerry and others of Marblehead.
Halifax, British brigantine, Capt Richard Hinckly, captured by the privateer schooner General Putnam but later retaken by the British. This may be the American prize recaptured by the British Milford in 1776.
Hepsibeth, American sloop, Capt Swain, captured by Br Milford, 14 Jul 1777. Another account indicates Capt Barzillai Swain of the sloop Elizabeth, was captured 3 Aug 1777. This may be the same sloop.
Industry, brigantine bound for St Lucas, master Arthur McClelan, captured 4 Dec 1777. American brig, captured by Milford.

The Retrieve was also captured by the Milford. A detailed account of the circumstances of the time, and of yet another prize ship taken by the Milford, named the Yankee Hero, is reported as follows;

Under the encouragement of acts passed by the Continental Congress and the various provincial assemblies, privateering flourished during 1776, although it came very far from assuming the proportions that it attained in later years. Only thirty-four private commissions were issued under the authority of the Continental government, but probably a much larger number of privateers were sent out by the separate states. Vessels of this class cruised at sea, along the Atlantic coast, and in West Indian and European waters. The privateersmen were commonly successful, but first and last a good many of them fell into the hands of the enemy.

Captain James Tracy was unfortunate enough to fall in with a British frigate, mistaking her for a merchantman. Tracy sailed from Newburyport, June 7, in the brig Yankee Hero, carrying twelve guns and twenty-six men, including officers. He expected to get more men at Boston. Off Cape Ann the captain sighted a sail which he determined to chase, and here he received a reinforcement of fourteen men who came out from the shore in boats; with forty, he still had only a third of his complement. Tracy then bore away for the sail, which was five leagues distant, to the east-southeast; when too late he discovered the chase to be a man-of-war. He now put about for the shore with the ship, which turned out to be the frigate Milford, in pursuit. The wind, which had been westerly, died away, and in an hour and a half the frigate, having taken a fresh breeze from the south, was within half a mile and began to fire her bow chasers. The wind shifted to the west again. Tracy reserved his fire until the enemy should be within close range. She soon came up on the Yankee Hero's lee quarter within pistol-shot and the unequal contest became warm. The account of the affair was "chiefly collected from those who were in the engagement." "After some time the ship hauled her wind so close, which obliged the brig to do the same, that Capt. Tracy was unable to fight his lee guns; upon this he backed under her stern, but the ship, which sailed much faster and worked as quick, had the advantage and brought her broadside again upon him, which he could not evade, and in this manner they lay not an hundred feet from each other yawing to and fro for an hour and twenty minutes, the privateer's men valiantly maintaining their quarters against such a superior force. About this time the ship's foremast guns beginning to slack fire, Capt. Tracy tacked under his stern and when clear of the smoke and fire, perceived his rigging to be most shockingly cut, yards flying about without braces, some of his principal sails shot to rags and half of his men to appearance dying and wounded." The first lieutenant was among the wounded. The frigate having sheared off there was a short lull, during which the wounded were carried below and the crew began to repair the rigging. They were getting nearer shore and Tracy hoped to be able to escape. Before things could be put to rights, however, the frigate "again came up and renewed the attack, which obliged Capt. Tracy to have recourse to his guns again, though he still kept some hands aloft to his rigging, but before the brig had again fired two broadsides, Captain Tracy received a wound in his right thigh and in a few minutes he could not stand; he laid himself over the arm chest and barricadoe, determined to keep up the fire, but in a short time, from pain and loss of blood, he was unable to command, growing faint, and they helped him below. As soon as he came to, he found his flring had ceased and his people round him wounded, not having a surgeon with them, in a most distressed situation, most of them groaning and some expiring. Struck severely with such a spectacle, Capt. Tracy ordered his people to take him up in a chair upon the quarter deck and resolved again to attack the ship, which was all this time keeping up her fire; but after getting into the air, he was so faint that he was for some time unable to speak and finding no alternative but they must be taken or sunk, for the sake of the brave men that remained he ordered them to strike to the ship." (Mass. Spy, September 11, 1776.) The action lasted over two hours and the Yankee Hero lost four killed and thirteen wounded. On the Milford were thirty American prisoners who had been impressed and were forced to fight against their countrymen. The frigate took her prize to Halifax (Ibid., June 21, September 11, 1776; Am. Arch., IV, vi, 746-749; Mil. and Nav. Mag. of U. S., May, 1835.)


As a result of this, on September 21 the Marine Committee directed that the frigates Boston, Captain Hector McNeill, and Raleigh, Captain Thomas Thompson, should be fitted out as expeditiously as possible, and these vessels were ordered to cruise in Massachusetts Bay and to the eastward, in search of the British frigate Milford. For one reason or another, however, chiefly, no doubt, the difficulty of manning the ships and the British blockade, no Continental frigate got to sea in 1776, and the Milford continued taking prizes.

The Alfred, as chased by HMS Milford
It seems likely that Lieutenant Dunkin was on board the Milford during this action. Dunkin was likely still on board in an incident where the American naval officer John Paul Jones onboard Alfred was almost captured by the Milford;
It was on 27 October 1776, with Captain John Paul Jones now in command, that Alfred shipped anchor and set a northerly course in company with the sloop Providence, twelve guns, Captain Hoysteed Hacker. Jones's mission was multipurposed. His orders directed him to Cape Breton Island to free American prisoners who, reportedly, were being forced to work the coal mines at Spanish Bay (near modern Sydney, Nova Scotia) and to interfere as much as possible with the coal shipments to the city of New York, which had recently fallen to the British. He was also to keep a lookout for Quebec-bound British supply ships and to take every opportunity to harass the Newfoundland fishery. By mid-November Captain Jones had reached the southern coast of Cape Breton Island, where he took three prizes, one of them the 350-ton Mellish loaded with winter clothing for the British troops in Canada. Soon thereafter, the crew of Providence induced the not unwilling Captain Hacker to return home. Captain Jones and his crew sailed on alone in Alfred. He sent some boats into the harbor of Canso, Nova Scotia, where his men burned another supply ship and a whale oil warehouse. Off Louisbourg he took, in a stroke of good fortune, three colliers from Spanish Bay. From the captured crews he learned that the American seamen-turned-miners had bought their freedom by joining the Royal Navy and, more importantly, that at least three British warships were in the area looking for him. Wisely turning home, Jones paused to take another prize and was almost taken himself. HMS Milford, twenty-eight guns, chased Alfred (20 x 9-pounder guns and 10 x 6-pounder guns) for about four hours, but Jones drove ship and sailors hard and well and managed to escape.


One of the first engagements of the Marines involved the Milford;
It wasn't until the year 1777 that the Marines entirely appeared in uniform in numbers. Though legend attributes the green color to the traditional color of riflemen, Continental Marines mostly carried muskets. More likely, green cloth was simply plentiful in Philadelphia, and it served to distinguish Marines from the blue of the Army and Navy or the red of the British. Also, Sam Nicholas's hunting club wore green uniforms, hence his recommendation was for green.

The Continental sailors and Marines aboard Providence sailed north to Canada toward Nova Scotia. By 22 September, the sailors and Marines reached Canso Harbor and recaptured the small port. The following next day, they struck Isle Madame destroying fishing boats. On 27 September while fishing, Providence, became under surprise attack from the British frigate HMS Milford. Although surprised, the smaller American ship managed to escape in a day of expert sailing.


Not surprisingly, the various actions of the Milford made things difficult for Lieutenant Dunkin's widow, Ann, in the aftermath of the War of Independence, when she wanted to visit New York in 1780.
The Petition of Ann Dunkin, of this City, Widow of Robert Dunkin, late a Lieutenant on Board the Milford Ship of War belonging to the King of Great Britain, praying leave to go into New York to obtain her half pay, was read; and on consideration the said Petition was unanimously rejected. 

But this sounds very like a subterfuge on the part of Mrs Ann Dunkin. Permission was required to travel to New York in 1780, as the British occupied the city from September 1776 to late 1783. Rather than going to collect her widow's half-pay, which would have been minimal compared to the cost of the trip, it seems more likely that the real reason she wanted to go to New York, was to collect from the British authorities a share of the prize money which was still owing to her late husband.

There is reference to a Lieutenant Dunkin in navy records until 1775, but not after that date. This is explained by a reference to; "The Parents of Robert Henry Dunkin were Capt. Robert Dunkin of the British Navy (lost with his ship off the Coast of Nova Scotia)[perhaps while commanding a prize vessel?] and his wife Ann Henry, who was born June 4, 1740 at Coleraine, County Derry, Ireland. She died June 20, 1832, in Philadelphia where she is buried. The Dunkin China, owned by the Sill family, bears the Dunkin Arms, the crest being a ship." An example of a teapot in the Reeves Center Collection, from the china service of Robert Henry Dunkin is showing and is described as Qianlong c1790. It has the motto Disce Parti. The arms and ship crest are those of the Duncan family of Gallorford, Seaside, and Darnside, descendants of the Duncans of Lundie. The connection between Robert Henry Dunkin and the Duncans of Scotland remains uncertain.

In 1818 Mrs Ann Dunkin sat for a portrait to Sully, one of the most celebrated of the Philadelphia school of artists, holding the dear little babe, Dunkin Henry, in her lap, but the little boy dying not long afterwards. That portrait was then in Maunsell's, possession and he said; "The likenesses are speaking, that of the child having re-appeared in some of the grandchildren".

The death of Mrs Ann Dunkin occasioned a family dispute, as outlined in a Pennsylvania court report of c1859.
APPEAL from the Orphans Court of Philadelphia. In 1832 Mrs Ann Dunkin, of Philadelphia, died, leaving a will dated 20th July, 1831, wherein she devised all her estate to her executors, in trust, after payment of debts to receive the dividends and income thereof, and divide the same "into two equal parts, and pay one of said equal parts to her granddaughter, Ann, wife of John S Van Rensselaer, for her own sole and separate use notwithstanding her coverture;" and the other half to the children of the said Ann, who was her sole heir. Of the said estate, $8208 consisted of corporation stocks and other personal property, and Mrs Van Rensselaer having died, her husband administered on her estate, and filed his petition to have the half part that was held in trust, for her transferred to him; and, on notice to the children of Mrs Van Rensselaer and answer admitting the above facts, the Court decreed according to the prayer of the petition; and thereupon, Lydia Sill, one of the children, appealed, but unsuccessfully.

There seem to be various items previously owned by John Sanders and Ann van Rensselaer in museum collections. For anyone interested, there is a great deal more about the family in the book.

John Sanders van Rensselaer and John Vanderlyn
In making attributions to artists where there is no signature, it is desirable to demonstrate a connection between the sitter and the artist. It was noted above that van Rensselaer was a senior aide to Governor Clinton. Separately, William Dunlap records in his History of the Arts of Design, that Vanderlyn painted a portrait of Governor Clinton for the Literary and Philosophical Society. In addition Dunlap notes that in 1816 Clinton asked Vanderlyn to become a director of the American Academy of Fine Arts, but Vanderlyn declined.

The Vanderlyn portrait of Clinton would have taken a number of sittings and so it is extremely likely that van Rensselaer as Clinton's aide, met Vanderlyn during this process, if indeed he had not met him earlier. In addition it is entirely plausible for van Rensselaer to ask Vanderlyn to paint a miniature portrait of his betrothed, Ann Dunkin, before their marriage, to have as a memory when she was absent in Philadelphia. Being prior to their marriage, a miniature portrait was a more logical commission than a large oil as they had not yet set up house. To ask for a miniature painted in the manner of the French miniatures popular while Vanderlyn was studying in Paris, was also a fashionable request for such a wealthy and well-connected family.

The painting and the artist
Having identified and described the sitter, it is time to turn to the painting and the artist. As the marriage took place on 12 March 1816, it seems likely Ann was painted in 1815 or early 1816. The framing of the portrait is a little unusual in that there is an extra metal fillet or bezel inside the most obvious oval bezel. This fits with the dating of the portrait, as being a portrait framed during the time of the impacts of the Embargo Act and the war of 1812, in a make-do frame. This has been discussed at length in a previous post, and as I say there, I think it is important for history, to keep such portraits in these make-do frames, and resist any temptation to re-frame them, see 2008 - Additions and Comment: Case study - The Embargo Act of 1807 ...

John Vanderlyn (1775-1852) is a highly regarded American portrait and scenic painter. He was employed by a print-seller in New York, and was first instructed in art by Archibald Robinson (1765-1835), a Scotsman who was afterwards one of the directors of the American Academy. He copied some of Gilbert Stuart's portraits, including one of Aaron Burr, who placed him under Gilbert Stuart as a pupil. The Vanderlyn portrait of Aaron Burr was the original on which a miniature of Burr in this collection is based. See below and also View 

In 1796 Vanderlyn went to Paris, and in 1805 to Rome, where he painted his picture of "Marius amid the Ruins of Carthage", which was shown in Paris, and obtained a gold medal. This success caused him to remain in Paris for seven years, during which time he prospered greatly. In 1812 he showed a nude "Ariadne" (engraved by Durand, and now in the Pennsylvania Academy), which increased his fame. When Aaron Burr fled to Paris, Vanderlyn was for a time his only support.

Vanderlyn returned to America in 1815, but did not meet with success; he worked very slowly, and neither his portraits nor various panorama which he exhibited brought him any considerable financial return. In 1842, through friendly influences, he was commissioned by Congress to paint "The Landing of Columbus" for one of the panels in the rotunda of the Capitol at Washington. Going to Paris, he employed to assist him a French artist, who, it is said, did most of the work. He died in absolute want at Kingston, New York, on the 23rd of September 1852.

A portrait of Aaron Burr's daughter Theodosia Burr Alston (1783-1812) has been attributed to by Vanderlyn, and is commonly called The Nag's Head portrait. Theodosia also features in a portrait attributed to Edward Greene Malbone, of which an early copy exists in this collection. That on the left is by Vanderlyn and on the right is an early copy of the Malbone version which has been attributed to John Wesley Jarvis (1780-1840), for more about this portrait, see View Ann Dunkin and Theodosia would almost certainly have known of each other.

Vanderlyn was the first American to study in France instead of in England, and to acquire accurate draughtsmanship. He was more academic than his fellows; but, though faithfully and capably executed, his work was rather devoid of charm. He painted portraits of Presidents George Washington (a copy of Stuart's portrait, for the National House of Representatives), James Monroe, James Madison, Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor, and of the statesmen Robert R. Livingston (New York Historical Society), John C. Calhoun and George Clinton. Vanderlyn also painted portraits of the parents of the artist Louisa Caroline Strobel, who has three miniatures in this collection, for more see View

The return of Vanderlyn to America in 1815 fits with this portrait, as does the French coloring and style. The close-ups also reveal the artist's attention to detail and it is easy to believe he took a long time to complete this portrait. In 1815 the successful miniature painters in New York were those copying more of an English style, with lighter backgrounds, often showing clouds and blue sky.


As Ann Dunkin was living in New York before her marriage, it does seem reasonable to attribute this miniature to John Vanderlyn based upon its style. There are believed to be in existence, some examples of miniatures painted by Vanderlyn before he went to France, but they may not be very helpful in attributing this miniature, as his painting style would have changed while he was being taught in France and as he followed the painting fashions there. However, one thing that seems very distinctive in comparing the two oil portraits of ladies c1815, with the miniature of Ann Dunkin c1815, is the way that each of them is depicted with an apparent double outline of the chin/jawline. A similar extra line is less obvious on the Theodosia portrait, but seems to be a characteristic of Vanderlyn's work. Some other artists, such as Thomas Sully, who painted both oils and miniatures, also painted such a double jawline around this time, although his were less pronounced, but it is possible Thomas Sully painted the miniature.

Showing here is Vanderlyn's 1815 oil portrait of Mary Scott Swan in a similar pose with a red wrap, and also one of Mary Ellis Bell. The colors are more intense, as by an artist more confident in painting in oil. The pose of the miniature is more that of an artist more at home with bust portraits, than closer head portraits in miniature. Miniature French portraits of this date tend to have darker backgrounds, and regrettably, the artist has not made the most of the translucence of ivory, as was then fashionable with miniature painters in New York, factors which help explain why he was not more successful with miniatures upon his return.

The identification of the sitter by her maiden name in contemporary writing on the reverse, dates the miniature as being painted in America in 1815. It is by an expert hand, but is dissimilar to the work of other artists working in American at that time who had been trained in France.

One possible artist, although not trained in France, is Anson Dickinson. His name is only suggested as his account book for June 1816 includes a portrait for "Vanranselaer" [sic]  This being separate from his miniature of 19 Feb 1827 of Mr "Stn Van Ranseleer" [sic]. Dickinson was friendly with Vanderlyn at this time, but although the 1816 date would fit with the portrait of Ann Dunkin, a comparison of the style with miniatures by Dickinson of around this date, as depicted in Dearborn, shows differences and tends to suggest that the Dunkin portrait was painted by an artist producing even better work than Dickinson was at that time. Another artist discounted is Robert Fulton. He would have been a logical choice, having painted Mrs Ann Dunkin, but he died in 1815 and the style of his later work is more akin to the fancy views as popularized by the French artist Isabey.

While confirmed examples of miniatures by Vanderlyn have yet to appear, there are sufficient indications here to support an attribution to him. Any thoughts by experts on the work of John Vanderlyn would be very welcome, but in the interim it seems the portrait of Ann Dunkin, Mrs John Sanders van Rensselaer, is a rare example of a miniature portrait painted by him after his return to America in 1815. 1417

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