Deming, Charlotte - portraits of a husband and wife

The pair of miniature portraits acquired recently, and showing here, are examples by a rarely encountered American female artist, Charlotte Deming, (Aka Charlotte Denning, as there has been confusion over her name.) However, the pair are both clearly signed "C Deming 1830" on the reverse, so it is possible to confirm the spelling of her name.

The pair were housed in simple wooden frames, of 19C style, but the frames are probably no more than 20 years old, with the other writing on the reverse appearing to be framing instructions. The condition of the miniatures is less than ideal, with warping and stress fractures, caused by the ivory being stuck onto card. As ivory dries, it shrinks across the grain, whereas the card does not. Hence leading to stress fractures.

However, as signed examples by Charlotte Deming are very rare, especially as a pair, the miniatures are a welcome addition to the collection. Little is known about her. Blattel notes that she worked in New York and was active from 1833-1874. She also exhibited at the National Academy of Design. The date of these two miniatures extends that period a little earlier. Being early works, one might expect that later paintings will have less of a folk-art look.

In 1834, Dunlap records her under the heading; "Painters of whom my limits will not permit a more detailed notice, or who have refused information, or, lastly, have passed into obscurity". It is not clear which category she falls into, perhaps the first, but Dunlap notes; "Miss Charlotte Denning [sic] miniature painter of Plattsburg".

That at least provides a start point. Ellet also says in 1859 "Miss Charlotte Denning [sic] of Plattsburgh is spoken of as a clever miniature painter". There appears to be this portrait by her in Canada "Charlotte Deming, John Fletcher, 1845, aquarelle sur ivoire, 10,7 * 8,7 cm, Ottawa, Bibliothèque et Archives". She is also described as an itinerant artist, which suggests she was perhaps a spinster or a widow who needed to earn a living.

To be fair, it is hard to see any similarity of style between the examples showing here, but they are from quite different time periods and thus show how an artist's style can change.

And Skinners sold this; "Portrait Miniature of a Young Child wearing a Purple Dress Holding a Rattle, attributed to Charlotte Deming, (American, 19th Century), signed "Miss CO Deming" u.l., watercolor on ivory showing a half-length portrait of the ginger-haired child, 3 x 2 3/8 in., mounted in a red leather hinged case with gilt brass mat. Condition: Very good. Estimate $1000-$1500. Sold for $2700"

There was a Charlotte Deming who was born 18 October 1808 and died 23 December 1887, perhaps sister of George 10 Sept 1806-21 Apr 1860 and Charles 8 Dec 1812-19 Nov 1813. They appear to have been children of Lemuel Deming 9 Jul 1782-12 March 1841 and Clarissa Thompson (17 April 1785-1 Oct 1870) of Wethersfield, Hartford, CT. She reportedly married George Gabriel in New Haven 8 September 1826.

A Charlotte Deming of Wethersfield was born Oct 12, 1805 in Savoy, MA and married Daniel Hoxie on July 5, 1828. Another Charlotte Deming was born c1793 the daughter of George and Phoebe Deming. She appears not to be the Charlotte Deming of Litchfield CT who married James Humphrey born 3 Dec 1837. There was a Colonel Henry C Deming who spoke at a convention of "Deaf Mute Instructors" along with the noted deaf mute miniature artist John Carlin MA, probably in 1866, which provides a possible connection.

She may be related to Adelaide Deming (1864-1956), an artist and educator whose interest in her town's past provided subjects for many of her paintings. She was a descendant of a prominent Litchfield family of the post-Revolutionary War period, and a nationally known landscape painter.

At this stage, from a geographic point of view, the most likely Charlotte Deming seems perhaps to be the one born 28/29 October 1810 in either Onondaga or Suffolk County, NY, as daughter of David Deming and Elizabeth Ann Curtis. According to the IGI she married George Poulton about 1830. That location being the closest to Plattsburgh, NY. It is noticeable that the two signatures are slightly different in style, as if written at different times. It may not be too fanciful to suggest that the miniatures are a self-portrait of Charlotte painted shortly before her 1830 wedding, together with one of her husband for their 1830 wedding, to make a marriage pair.

Her face is looking direct at the artist, as would be expected for a self-portrait painted looking into a mirror, whereas the man looks to one side. Having signed as C Deming, she may then have continued to use that name for her paintings even after her marriage. As Dunlap refers to her as Miss Deming, it would seem that Deming was not her married name. However, any new information would be gratefully received. 1419a/b


Anonymous said...

Dear Sir, your piece on the artist Miss Charlotte Deming was quite interesting. I recently aquired a large watercolor portrait of who appear to be a brother and siter, on the back of the watercolor it is signed "Miss C. Deming, 1861" the signature compared to the miniature portraits is almost identical, if you could provide a way to send you some images I would be more then happy to do so. The portrait was aquired from the Grace Dyar estate in Hartford, CT who aquired it in July 1963.

best regards,
Mark K. Smith

Don Shelton said...

Hello Mark,
Thank you for your comments. If you click on my profile you will find my email address and you can attach images to an email.

Unknown said...

I have a miniature from 1837 of Susan Mann (wife of Hugh McCulloch, secretary of the treasury under Lincoln).
My miniature is not signed, but in doing some research, I found letters of correspondence between Susan and Hugh that discuss the miniature and mentions that is was painted by a ‘Miss Deming’. Susan was living in Plattsburgh when the miniature was done. The following is a link to a photo of my miniature: