“Our dear Father:” Investigating the Portrait of Harmanus Ten Eyck

This post is the first in a series featuring student papers from “Material Life in America,” a course taught by WPAMC director Dr. J. Ritchie Garrison. The papers address objects with connections to New York in the collection of the Winterthur Museum. Each student began by closely examining his or her object, and over the course of the semester situated the object in increasingly broad contexts of production and use. For many of the students, these projects were a first foray into the world of material culture and Winterthur’s collections, and yielded surprising and challenging results.

Harmanus Ten EyckHarmanus Ten Eyck, Ezra Ames, Albany, New York; 1800–29. Oil on canvas, 1959.1393 A,B Winterthur Museum, Gift of Henry Francis du Pont

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Albany merchant Harmanus Ten Eyck commissioned his portrait, an act that left a record of his likeness and legacy for his progeny. Since his death, Ten Eyck’s portrait has been copied, exhibited, published, sold, and become the subject of historical inquiry. Three surviving versions of the large oil-on-canvas portrait are tangible evidence of an affluent patriarch, artistic talent, a cosmopolitan city, affectionate memory, antiquarian interest, and the popularity of American genealogy at the end of the nineteenth century. Inspired by the version at the Winterthur Museum, this paper explores the creation, inheritance, and sale of the Ten Eyck portrait to understand its meaning. Its changing significance makes the portrait an historical document of how families preserve and transform memory.

Read the paper here!: “Our dear Father:” Investigating the Portrait of Harmanus Ten Eyck by Matthew Skic, WPAMC class of 2016

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