Gimbrede, Thomas - portraits of man and lady

Recently, the opportunity arose to purchase this nice pair of American miniatures.

They are probably husband and wife, but unfortunately no history came with them, so it is not possible to determine whether they are marriage portraits.

They are both unsigned and trying to determine the artist has been frustrating, although at present they are attributed to Thomas Gimbrede on the advice of a very kind visitor who is more knowledgeable about miniatures than I am.

Two examples by Gimbrede are shown here, but his miniatures are relatively uncommon. The black and white one is a self-portrait painted c1806 and belonging to the Metropolitan Museum . The one in color was sold by Bonhams in 2007.

Gimbrede was born in Agen, France in 1781 but emigrated to America, where he worked in New York and Baltimore as an engraver and miniature painter, before taking up a position as teacher of drawing and of French at the West Point Military Academy, where he died 24 Dec 1832.

Judging by the comments on his grave at West Point, where it is recorded he was drawing master for 14 years, Gimbrede took up his position in 1819, see The History Box| Learning About New York State Part IX That does not mean he ceased painting miniatures after 1818, but presumably his output of miniatures was reduced.

Gimbrede was remembered by many West Point students for his comment at the start of each course; "There are only two lines in drawing, the straight line and the curve line. Everyone can draw a straight line and everyone can draw a curve line, therefore, everyone can draw."

Whilst drawing may today seem an unlikely skill for military cadets, in the 19C it was a vital skill, especially in the years before photography, so that details of terrain and enemy fortifications could be sketched and conveyed back to headquarters.

Gimbrede was also an early experimenter at wine growing in the United States. At A History of Wine in America "d0e5342" there is the quote:

"A few miles north of Croton Point, a Frenchman named Thomas Gimbrede was experimenting with native vines at West Point, where he taught drawing to the cadets. Starting about 1820, Gimbrede had collected every variety that he found growing wild in the woods and transplanted them to his garden, "manuring, stimulating and pruning them with great care, in the hope of changing and ameliorating their character." After fifteen years of such experiment, Gimbrede was candid enough to admit that he had had no luck whatever: the natives remained obstinately unimproved by their pampering. But perhaps this barren result may have helped put an end to the notion, so long and fondly entertained, that the "wild" grape could be "tamed" by so simple a process of cultivation in which, as one writer has said, the experimenter acts as a sociologist instead of a geneticist."

Nevertheless, to my untrained eye, I worry there are some differences of style, so I must confess I am still wondering if the miniatures might be by a different artist. (However, for later discussion by my kind visitor in response to my thoughts below, please see the helpful extra comment at the bottom of this description, which also helps illustrate that attribution is an inexact science!)

The two other examples shown by Gimbrede appear to have the opaque gouache background usually associated with artists trained in France and they have a more finely delineated style, that is often seen with artists trained as engravers. Gimbrede was also an engraver and some examples of his engravings are shown below.

In contrast this new pair, has the wash type sky backgrounds of artists trained in the British method of painting miniatures and more of the ivory is allowed to show through in the flesh areas. They are a little better painted than these scanned images show.

There is fine detail in the hair and clothing, but in the delicate manner of a very good painter, rather than an engraver. The colors are a little brighter than the images show, with the coral earrings and necklace being the very same shade of orange used by Richard Verbryck when he painted jewellery.

Based upon the hairstyles, they seem to date from around 1825-1830. Interestingly, both have the same rear case work, copper with an oval aperture, although the rear glass and bezel are missing from the man.

However, the fronts of the cases are different, the man being of the plain style in gold used from 1800 to 1825 and the lady being the chased foliate style with a beaded bezel used from 1825 to 1840. Her front beaded bezel is too distorted and tightly wedged to open, thus it is not possible to clean the interior of the glass.

It therefore appears the cases were made at a transitional time of changing fashion in case work, perhaps with the lady having the then latest fashion of chased foliate work for the front, at the time when the rear of the cases continued in the previous fashion.

There is no interior packing for either portrait, which is unusual, and as the lady's bezel appears never to have been opened, the ivories were presumably originally framed with out any backing paper.

When considering some other possible artists who were skilled and also active around 1825, the following have been eliminated; Eliza and Sarah Goodridge, Nathaniel Rogers, William Doyle, Henry Williams, Anna Peale, and several others. Certainly, the artist is more skilled than average.

Comparatively speaking, the best match I could come up with for the pose, and style of painting the man's clothing, was fig 47 in Dearborn. This is the portrait shown here of T T Heartie by Anson Dickinson, which has the same fine parallel frilled folds on his shirt. However, I accept that Anson Dickinson is probably not the artist.

Thus, if any other visitor has views on the artist, whether confirming Gimbrede or otherwise, I would be grateful to hear from them.

As further examples of Gimbrede which may be of interest, here are several portraits which were engraved by him. 1323, 1324

Extra visitor comment.
I want to correct a couple of incorrect assumptions that you have made. A grey solid wash background, not necessarily gouache, is typical of artists who worked or trained on the continent. Outside of Jos Saunders, I can't recall ever seeing an English artist use this type of background. In any case, a close inspection a an English artist using a relatively solid background, usually brown or greenish, would show that it is almost never a float but a series of brushstrokes, either stipples or cross-hatching. Floating a solid background is typically continental, hence, I doubt that your pair are done by an English trained artist. And saying that because it is delicately painted it could not be done by an engraver just doesn't hold water. Check out the miniatures of Nathaniel Jocelyn for example. Extremely fine detail on his later pieces and his earlier pieces show great delicacy. There are lots of other examples too. Many engravers were first very good painters. As for the cases...there is a definite overlap in time for these cases. The plain cases were used up to around 1820 and the chased cases actually came in just before 1820. This is not to say that these are by Gimbrede, (although I feel that they probably are) but there are very few artists working in this style at this time. Often there is just a feel about a piece that can be difficult to put into words. On the other hand I have a list of over 130 artists working at about the time these were painted, many of them foreign trained, and I have only seen the work of about 1/3 of them. So who knows what may come to light in the future.

No comments: