DescriptionBenjamin West Carte de Visite with a Joseph West Autograph Letter Signed. The CDV (2.5" x 4.25") features Benjamin West's Self-Portrait, painted circa 1759. Today the subject of this CDV, the earliest known watercolor-on-ivory miniature, is on display at the Yale University Art Gallery. After painting that miniature (circa 1758), West, a young struggling eighteen-year-old artist, presented it, along with an invitation to marriage, to Elizabeth Steele. Miss Steele of Philadelphia accepted the miniature but not the proposal (her mother did not approve, questioning Elizabeth's prospects as an artist's wife). Heart-broken, West left for Italy, eventually settling in England in 1763 and never returning to America. In the meantime, Miss Steele married and raised a family. Sixty years after her rejection of the artist, her son-in-law visited the aged West in his London studio to return the miniature.
This CDV has moderately faded and contains some darkened spots. The photographer's imprint on the verso reads, "J. Davis Byerly, Successor to Jacob Byerly, Photographer, 29 N. Market St. Frederick, MD." J. Davis Byerly took over his father's photography business in 1869, which means the CDV likely dates between 1869 and 1872 (Joseph West sent the image to his cousin in 1872).
Also included is a Joseph West Autograph Letter Signed (two and one-half pages on two sheets, 5" x 7.75", Philadelphia, July 10, 1872). Joseph West, a nephew of Benjamin West, sends the CDV (along with another one which is not included in this lot) to his "Cousin Hannah A. Bacon." According to the letter, Hannah received the two CDVs: one she was to keep and the other she was to give to her sister. West also explains the history of the miniature. In part as written:
"Enclosed is two photographs of Benjamin West the Late Historical Painter of the Royal Academy of Arts under King George the 3d the one for thyself and the other for they very Accomplished sister in Law Mrs. William Clement. The original miniature was Painted by Mr. West in the 18th Year of his age in 1756[?]. It being the first Miniature he Ever saw and Painted by himself It was presented by him to a Miss Steele of Philad. . . . The Mother seeing a growing Attachment with her Daughter Broke it off for she did not like his profession as an Artist. . . . Miss Steele afterwards Married a Mr. John Cook and lived till she was 65 years of age. . . . The Miniature was sold in 1848 to close up the Cook Estate and I Bought it for $147.00 and gave it to my Late Son Clement L. West in 1853 he being engaged on the Capitol of the U States as Architect. The Miniature was taken out to London in 1817 by the Relatives of Mrs. Cook and Recognized by Mr. West on Sight he Being there in the 78th year of his Age he gave them a History of the Picture and was gratified with there calling on him. My Son took it out to London in 1856 and showed it to the Daughter in Law of Mr West." On lined paper with folds. Moderate staining.
Also included are two prints of Gilbert Stuart's painting, Portrait of Benjamin West. One bears the embossed stamp "Copyright Photo / Walker and Cockerell / London E. C." in the lower right corner; the other bears the stamp "Copyright Photo / Emery Walker / London E. C." A small part of the upper right corner of one has been removed.
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