The Case of Walter Robertson, Copies, Attributions, and RRR

A Very Happy New Year to Visitors!

I am afraid this first post for the year 2008 may not be interesting to all visitors, as it attempts to deal a little with the "tar pit" of copies and attributions!

However, there are already several interesting additions in transit, despite the first week of January not yet being completed! They will be added here later in January. Needless to say, my New Year's Resolution to "Buy Less and Sell More" was quickly broken with two miniatures acquired on December 28 and 29, and two more on January 1.

In late 2007 this miniature of a lady by Walter Robertson was added to the collection.

At the time, in researching and writing the description for the addition, I made some comments about rectangular miniature portraits in other collections which I felt were wrongly attributed to Walter Robertson, using the somewhat irreverent term RRR for wRong Rectangular Robertsons.

I suggested previously that rectangular miniatures attributed to Walter Robertson were too late for him by around 15 to 20 years and therefore must have been painted by another artist.

Since then while eating my Christmas cake, I have mulled over the subject with a glass of mulled wine, to see whether I could add anything to the discussion on Robertson's American period and also try to provide an answer the obvious question posed by my heresy.

If it was not Walter Robertson who painted the RRR, then who was it who painted them?

My musing was also accompanied by several dips into a large illustrated volume of Sherlock Holmes, (very good reading when accompanied by mulled wine!) and the Sherlock Holmes quote; "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."

This inspired me to record my thoughts, even though I am conscious that the weight of 20C academic opinion leans towards Walter Robertson making numerous miniature copies of Stuart oils.

One of the advantages of being an untrained and amateur collector is that one can offer propositions that may not fit with traditional establishment views, without risking losing one's personal reputation, simply as an amateur starts without any worthwhile reputation to lose!

I now hope that 21C scholarship is prepared to approach the subject with a fresh mind and will be prepared to comment on the proposition outlined here.

As is often the way with research, the research process led to related thoughts, such as whether this miniature by a young lady and attributed by Daphne Foskett (plate 26A in her dictionary) to Walter Robertson, is instead by his brother Charles Robertson - answer, I do not know, but it does seem to be more similar in style to the portrait of Walter Robertson, than the miniatures by Walter Robertson.

However, of more relevance from my research, is evidence of artistic rivalry and "bad-mouthing" of Walter Robertson, with completely contradictory remarks about Robertson within different sections of Dunlap.

Thus like Dr Watson, it has seemed worthwhile to now offer to readers an expanded view of "The Case of Walter Robertson, Copies, Attributions and RRR", via a rewrite of the previous account and a forensic analysis of the available literature.

The miniature portrait above which started this research is of a lady with the initials "C V" and is attributed to Walter Robertson (c1750-1801). It is from his very brief American period (1793-1796). He was born in Dublin, Ireland, the son of a goldsmith. He commenced his studies in Dublin on 17 October 1765 and worked in Dublin 1768-1784 where he was a leading miniaturist.

Walter's brother Charles Robertson (1760-1821) was also a miniaturist and this is a miniature he painted of Walter Robertson. The original is in the National Gallery of Ireland.

In this collection, and shown further below, is another miniature attributed to Charles Robertson, with more detail at Robertson, Charles - portrait of a man in a blue c... Charles spent most of his career in Dublin, apart from a period in London in 1785-1792 and a brief visit in 1806.

Walter Robertson left for London in 1784, but perhaps because his Irish accent was unfashionable, he evidently spent more than he earned, necessitating a return to Dublin where he declared bankruptcy in 1792. There Robertson became friendly with Gilbert Stuart and in 1793 they moved to New York where Robertson painted miniatures and according to some 20C scholars, reportedly made miniature copies of Stuart's large oil paintings.

For example within the Portrait Miniature Collection in the National Museum of American Art is this miniature, attributed to Walter Robertson and described as Mrs. Philip John Schuyler (Catherine van Rensselaer) (1734-1803).

The miniature is attributed to Walter Robertson, but I confessed a personal opinion (later endorsed by a knowledgeable visitor), that this seems an unlikely attribution. Walter Robertson was working in America from 1793 to 1796 and I have not seen any references that suggest rectangular miniatures were painted there at this time.

The case may not be original, but being red leather it does date between 1810/1820 which seems a more likely date for a rectangular miniature, with the miniature itself being copied from an earlier large oil portrait at that time.

Several other miniatures have been attributed as miniature copies by Robertson of oil portraits by Stuart, some are rectangular and some are oval. This rectangular one of Abigail Willing is in the Metropolitan Museum, see Walter Robertson: Abigail Willing (68.222.13) | Object Page ... and/or Walter Robertson: Abigail Willing (68.222.13) | Work of Art ...

Although being an amateur collector, I have a reservation about that attribution (also later endorsed by a knowledgeable visitor), despite the reputation of the Metropolitan.

The rectangular format and red leather case are signs of a miniature copied between 1810/1825, well after Robertson's departure from America and his subsequent death in India. Additionally, the chair looks to be Empire style and date from after 1800.

Apart from considering below whether the rectangular miniatures are the work of Walter Robertson, it is also relevant to consider the status of oval miniatures claimed to be Robertson's copies of works by Gilbert Stuart.

Elsewhere, I have commented that to me cases are an important preliminary guide to the age and origin of miniatures. Thus for any oval miniatures to be regarded as by Robertson, they should have casework from around 1795. As with rectangular miniatures, later case work is prima facie, a sign of a different artist.

The earliest 20C reference to miniature copies by Walter Robertson seems to be the wording used by Theodore Bolton in the wording of his 1921 book "Early American Portrait Painters in Miniature", where he states on page 136; "(Robertson) worked in Philadelphia and New York copying some of Stuart's portraits in miniature."

Shortly afterwards, Harry Wehle in his 1927 book "American Miniatures", almost seemed to reject the 1921 comment by Bolton as he said "As for Robertson's numerous copies after Stuart's portraits, of which Dunlap wrote, none have thus far come to light." One can interpret Wehle as implicitly saying he had some doubts that any miniature copies by Robertson existed.

It is next necessary to revert to 19C sources to determine the origin of the claim. This is a book written by William Dunlap (1766-1839) who was a contemporary of the early portrait artists and painted portraits himself. His book "History of the Arts of Design" was originally written in 1834, but a revised edition was published in 1918, only three years before Bolton's comment above.

In the preface to the 1918 edition, while giving Dunlap credit for his pioneering work, the editors' did comment; "Dunlap's opportunity for gathering facts regarding the artists who had preceded him was limited, and his own judgement in many instances was biased by the professional opinions and personal envy of others."

Careful, analysis of Dunlap's various references to Robertson, shows that Robertson was one such artist whose reputation and work has been tarnished by such personal and artistic envy.

"History of the Arts of Design" was first published in 1834. Although Dunlap was an artist he observes on page i.317; "From the year 1789 to 1805 the events of my life have no connection with the the arts of design." After 1805 Dunlap resumed miniature painting, but in Boston. From this and the general tenor of his remarks, it appears that Dunlap never met Robertson, who was only active between 1793-1796. Additionally, Gilbert Stuart had died in 1828. Thus Dunlap needed to resort to someone who had known Robertson when he was active, about 40 years earlier.

It is fairly evident from Dunlap, that the source of comment about Robertson was Benjamin Trott (1770-1843) as Dunlap had known him for many years. That comments by Trott about Robertson should be treated carefully, is clear from a Dunlap comment on page ii.101; "Trott was rather inclined to be caustic in his remarks upon others (especially artists), than charitable."

The first comment in Dunlap is so emphatic it looks like a "smoking gun", but when forensically analysed, it can be seen as the result of an attempt to denigrate Robertson. The comment arises when discussing Gibert Stuart on page i.229 and reads; "Many of (Stuart's) portraits were copied in miniature by Walter Robertson, who had come to America with him... Some of this gentleman's (i.e. Robertson) celebrity was owing to the accuracy of Stuart's portraits; for the ignorant in the art transfer without hesitation the merit of the original painter to the copyist".

The comment has the air of throw-away and caustic comments by Trott about Robertson, perhaps in answer to the question; "Was Walter Robertson talented?" As will be shown below, some 250 pages later in Dunlap there are diametrically opposed and more detailed comments by Dunlap, which have a greater ring of truth and show Trott was envious of Robertson. To infer an artistic rival is a copyist, is the ultimate insult.

Nevertheless, the comment was undoubtedly the source for Theodore Bolton, although as mentioned above Hary Wehle, seemed to doubt the accuracy of the claim.

It could be said the wind of opinion next changed direction in 1983 when Robin Bolton-Smith wrote somewhat condescendingly in "Charles Fraser of Charlston"; "Walter Robertson, an Irishman whom Gilbert Stuart brought back with him on his return to America in 1794, to copy his oil portraits in miniature, painted with technical skill and high finish, but retained the direct informal demeanor of Stuart's original."

In 1984 Bolton-Smith wrote in similar vein in "Portrait Miniatures in the National Museum of American Art", but without providing a source for the comment. However, she did go on to say; "Walter Robertson's portraits of some of Philadelphia's first citizens rank among the best miniatures of the period".

In view of what could be therefore be described as differing opinions as between Bolton, Wehle, and Bolton-Smith, although recognising I only have limited reference books in my library, it was logical to revert to Dunlap to see what else he actually wrote about Robertson in 1834.

As will become evident, from reading my copy of Dunlap (it has the bookplate of Sherman Flint) I feel Dunlap recorded the Robertson copies of Stuart oils, as oil copies, not as ivory copies.

Under his discussion of Walter Robertson, Dunlap makes one-line comments about Robertson painting copies of portraits by Gilbert Stuart; "His copies from Stuart's oil portraits pleased very much" and in a note on bottom of the same page; "He painted a miniature of Washington and copied several portraits by Stuart" (see page ii:118 of "History of the Arts of Design").

Thus the comments by Dunlap, under his discussion of Robertson and some 250 pages, and no doubt some months or years later than when he wrote the initial comment, do not state Robertson's copies were miniatures. Dunlap knew many early American portrait painters and himself painted large oils and miniature portraits. He would have been conscious of the differences between oils and miniatures when he wrote his book. He is therefore unlikely to have confused the terms when commencing his detailed evaluation of Robertson.

A strict reading of the wording thus supports the view that they were "oil copies" of "oil portraits", not miniatures on ivory copied from the oils. However, even for the moment, assuming there were miniature copies, in my opinion Robertson would have painted such miniatures in an oval format suitable for framing and wearing, as was fashionable at the time, not in the rectangular format of the two examples above.

For example the famous portrait of George Washington by Walter Robertson is in an oval format. One version is owned by the Cincinnati Art Museum, see CollectionResults Another version of it is in the R W Norton Art Gallery.

Johnson records that the original of this miniature is lost. This repeats a comment made by Bolton in 1921, "George Washington, 1794 (owned by) General E L Rogers, Baltimore. Destroyed in the Baltimore fire of 1904".

Robin Bolton-Smith's Smithsonian 1984 catalogue of miniatures in the Smithsonian illustrates four miniatures said to be by Robertson. They are all oval with the sitters being; Captain Joseph Anthony, Mrs Elizabeth Pollock Hartigan, a Gentleman, and Lawrence Reid Yates.

Only the Yates portrait is said to be a copy of a Stuart portrait, but it is oval, so that attribution may possibly be correct, if an oil portrait is known. However, experts with access to the miniature might wish to consider the view that this is perhaps more likely to have been painted by Robertson at a shared or separate sitting. Robertson was a very skilled miniaturist who brought a high reputation to America and there is no logical reason for him to make miniature copies from oil portraits painted by Stuart where the oil was, effectively, not yet dry.

It is hard to tell from the tiny illustrations on the fiche, but in passing, the Captain Joseph Anthony portrait looks unlike other work of Walter Robertson.

Rectangular miniatures were uncommon, if not rare, in Britain before 1810/1815. It is highly unlikely Walter Robertson would have used that technique 15/20 years earlier in America. Rectangular ivory plaques were not available in England, so they would hardly be available in America.

Given that Charles and James Peale, John Ramage, Joseph Dunkerley, and Benbridge were painting in "modest school" size prior to Robertson's 1793 arrival in America, it could appropriate to give Robertson part of the credit for introducing full sized miniatures into America, but not with credit for a double technological jump from modest school to rectangular.

Miniatures were a fashion item. Clients used to modest school size would have need to be convinced to move to full sized miniatures, which might take effect over the space of a year or two. Miniaturists themselves, would want to quit their "old" modest school blanks and cases before going large. Also bear in mind Robertson was only in America for three years.

Shown here in one image for comparative purposes are; a "modest school" John Ramage miniature of 1784, a full size oval Walter Robertson of c1795, a transitional oval on rectangular base by William John Thomson of c1815 (in later mount), and a rectangular Nathaniel Rogers of c1825.

Further support for the proposition that Walter Robertson may not have painted miniature copies of paintings by Gilbert Stuart can be added to the discussion.

When Robertson arrived in America he was already a very experienced miniaturist, who would have been very familiar with painting miniatures from life. He would have brought with himself; his colors, brushes, and other tools of trade, including the same sized, oval shaped, ivory blanks, and matching gold cases he had been using before he left Britain.

In all likelihood, he would have brought sufficient blanks and cases to have lasted for much of his short three year period in America. However, when he arrived he would have lacked a client base for miniatures and so needed to supplement his income by painting in oil.

In the Manney Collection Dale Johnson quotes New York directories for 1795 and 1796 where Robertson is listed as "limner and miniaturist". Thus Robertson's use of both terms in describing his occupation indicates a distinct difference between limning and miniatures in his own mind.

Johnson also refers to an oil portrait of Sarah McClean Bolton of Savannah in the St Louis Art Museum which is inscribed on the back; "Walter Robertson of New York 1796".

These two references illustrate that Robertson did paint large oil portraits. Given his friendship with Stuart, and the need for Robertson to get himself established in America it is probable Stuart assisted his friend by encouraging him to paint copies of Stuart's oil portraits if families sought extra versions of a portrait for other family members, but Stuart would have also encouraged his clients to have miniatures painted by Robertson.

In fact it seems that Robertson was so successful with his oil copies of Stuart oils, that it strained his friendship with Stuart, as earlier in his book, when discussing Benjamin Trott, Dunlap made the following comments about Robertson and Stuart on page ii.98; "Robertson's style was very singular and altogether artificial; all ages and complexions were of the same hue - and yet there was a charm in his coloring that pleased, in despite of taste."

Also "Robertson was employed very much in copying Stuart's portraits; and with his coloring, and Stuart's characteristic likeness, he was at the pinnacle of fame for a time. Stuart did not like that another, with another set of colors, should be mounted above him, on his own shoulders..."

This quote is the reverse of the earlier comment; "Some of this gentleman's (i.e. Robertson) celebrity was owing to the accuracy of Stuart's portraits; for the ignorant in the art transfer without hesitation the merit of the original painter to the copyist".

Logically Stuart is unlikely to have been concerned if Robertson received acclaim for his miniatures, as it would be unlikely to impact upon Stuart's own commissions for oils.

However, equally logically Stuart have been very upset if Robertson painted oil copies of Stuart's portraits which were considered by clients as above the originals.

The latter seems to be more likely the case, for as a result of Robertson's success with his copies, Dunlap records that Stuart withdrew his promotion of Robertson and instead promoted Benjamin Trott. "Trott's manner was more in the old way and more natural."

And ".... for that reason, and the more natural coloring of Trott, (Stuart) preferred (Trott), assisted him by advice, and recommended him."

There may have been other reasons for Robertson's oil portraits becoming more popular than those of Stuart. Roberston may have had a better relationship with his clients. Stuart could be very rude to his clients, as evidenced by some comments reported below by Trott and which are recorded at / GILBERT STUART THE MAN WHO PAINTED WASHINGTON Here is a self-portrait by Gilbert Stuart.

"Stuart resented being asked to make ugly women handsome. An important gentleman who had improved himself by marrying a rich and homely widow objected that Stuart’s likeness revealed her as plain. Said Stuart: “What a damned business is this of a portrait painter. You bring him a potato and expect he will paint a peach.”

And, "Benjamin Trott, the miniature painter, one day found Stuart in a great fury. “That picture,” he shouted, “has just been returned to me, with the grievous complaint that the muslin of the cravat is too coarse! Now, sir, I am determined to buy a piece of the finest texture, have it glued on the part that offends their exquisite judgement, and send it back.” Once he painted a beautiful woman who was a great talker. When the picture was almost done, she looked at it and exclaimed: “Why, Mr. Stuart, you have painted me with my mouth open.” “Madam, your mouth is always open,” the painter replied, and refused to complete the picture."

And, "Napoleon’s brother, Jerome Bonaparte, had married a Baltimore belle; he sat for Stuart with his nose in the air. Years later the painter Thomas Sully accidentally stepped on a canvas tossed onto the floor of Stuart’s lumber room. It was Bonaparte’s portrait. “You needn’t mind,” said Stuart. “It’s only a damned French barber.” “Stuart,” Sully continues, “had a beautiful picture of Jerome’s beautiful wife, which he refused to give up, threatening that if he was bothered any more about it, he would put rings through the nose and send it to any tavern keeper who would hang it up. He would have done it too,” Sully adds, “for he was not a man to flinch from anything of that kind.""

I am not sure what Sherlock Holmes would make of it, but Guillem Ramos-Poquí offers the attached diagram showing how various disciplines need to come together when undertaking fine art research, see

In considering other miniatures currently attributed to Walter Robertson, one needs to consider three miniatures illustrated in the CAA catalogue. Those of Daniel Stevens and Maria Willard Stevens are very similar in style to other Robertson miniatures and seem fine. The third is of Gabriel Manigault and is said to resemble very closely a portrait by Stuart.

Martha Severens made a sensible and cautious comment about this miniature; "The miniature resembles very closely a portrait by Stuart ... painted in New York in 1794. Robertson could have either made a version of the oil "in little" or availed himself of the same sittings while Manigault was in New York." However, Severens also wrote; "(Robertson) maintained close ties with Stuart, whose oil portraits he frequently copied in miniature".

The Metropolitan has several miniatures by Walter Robertson, apart from the one shown below. They include; an unknown lady, Augustus Vallette Van Horne, and Matthew Clarkson ex the Manney Collection. Dale Johnson suggests the Clarkson miniature is a copy of a Stuart oil, except that the dress and hairstyle are dissimilar. Therefore there seems to be some doubt as to whether the Clarkson miniature is a copy or, following Martha Severens' observation, Robertson availed himself of the same sittings.

This latter suggestion, or even much more likely, a separate sitting by Clarkson, with different dress and hairstyle, seems more sensible. Robertson was a highly skilled miniaturist, looking for commissions. It is far more likely he would paint miniatures from life, even for a lower fee, rather than make a copy from an oil. Copies are normally the role of an apprentice and copying would preclude Robertson from properly displaying his undoubted talents.

Robertson was only in America for about three years and it seems a major factor in his apparent success in such a short period was his palette of colors. At this time most artists prepared their own colors and hence would usually jealously guard their own secret recipes for making colors.

If the expressed doubt about Robertson making rectangular miniature copies of Stuart oils is accepted, it leads to a discussion of who then painted the RRR (wRong Rectangular Robertson's) and possibly also any oval miniature copies of Stuart oils.

There are several artists who could have painted them, but the number is very limited. In the early 19C, around 1810/20 when rectangular miniatures first became popular, there were very few miniaturists in America with the skill to paint technically accurate miniatures on ivory, or exact miniature copies of oil portraits. The first names that come to mind include; Dickinson, Fraser, Goodrich, Inman, Jarvis, Rogers, Trott, and Wood, but there are not many more. Malbone was deceased and the Peale's were between generations.

A return to Dunlap's book clearly shows the identity of the most likely candidate for the RRR as Benjamin Trott (1770-1843). Shown here is an example of his work depicting Benjamin Kintzing which is owned by the Metropolitan, see
Trott was noted for his backgrounds, where he floated on thin washes of white and blue, leaving large areas of the pure ivory unpainted. This is not to say none of the others named painted miniature copies of Stuart oils, but a clear and contemporary reference to Trott doing so can be found.

Dunlap comments (ii:98); "Not withstanding Stuart's approbation (of Robertson), Trott longed to be able to imitate the coloring of Walter Robertson; and I remember to have seen in his possession one of the Irishman's miniatures, half obliterated by the Yankee's experiments, who, to dive into the secret, made his way beneath the surface like a mole and in equal darkness".

And on the same page; "(Trott) followed or accompanied Stuart, when he removed from New York to Philadelphia; and that city was his headquarters for a great many years. His copies on ivory, with water colors, from Stuart's oil portraits, were good - one from the "Washington," extremely beautiful and true."

Thus here is a specific and contemporary reference by Dunlap to Trott making miniature copies on ivory of Stuart's portraits. It stands to reason that if Robertson had also made miniature copies of Stuart's oils, Dunlap would have been equally explicit in his wording and referred to "copies on ivory".

The reference to Trott is fully included in Wehle, but for some reason appears to have been largely overlooked, with most miniature copies of Stuart oils being attributed to Robertson, instead of Trott. However, in some cases attributions of miniature copies of Stuart oils have been made to Trott, e.g. Johnson refers to one of Joseph Anthony Jr which is in the Yale University Art Gallery. Johnson also refers to Trott's indebtedness to Robertson.

Dunlap also comments at some length on Trott's obsession with Robertson's color palette, including; "(Trott) was visited by a most mischievous notion, a disease of the mind, which occasionally affects painters - this was a firm conviction, that some vehicle had been discovered for conveying colors to the ivory .... but it was kept secret ... This megrim having taken possession of his brain .... He pursued a phantom, as alchemists of old sought the philosopher's stone .... (to) the waste of property and more precious time." And "I must however acknowledge, that .... he produced some of the cleanest pigments that ever I used.."

Thus it is clear Trott did make copies on ivory from Stuart's oils. Trott spent a lot of time and effort seeking to emulate Roberton's color palette, with some success, and the dates for the use of rectangular ivories suit him far better than Robertson.

Trott as a copyist of Stuart oils is clearly referred to in Johnson; "Stuart called Trott the best and closest of his imitators; Trott made many copies after his master."

Lest I be accused of bias, it should also be mentioned that Susan Strickler has written about miniature copies of Stuart oils. In "American Portrait Miniatures" on page 65 she comments; "A prolific artist, (Sarah) Goodridge painted several portraits of Stuart and also copied in miniature portraits he had painted". The source of Susan Strickler's comment about miniature copies of Stuart oils is not known, but on the basis of the comment, Sarah Goodridge is a candidate along with Benjamin Trott for painting miniature copies of Stuart oils. Dale Johnson echoed the comment about Sarah Goodridge making Stuart copies in 1990.

Therefore in my opinion, it seems the two illustrated examples of rectangular miniatures in the National Museum of American Art and in the Metropolitan Museum, which are currently attributed to Walter Robertson, are 15/20 years too late for him. They need to be reviewed and it is likely they should be re-attributed to Benjamin Trott or perhaps Sarah Goodridge, if the Strickler comment can be sourced.

Additionally, from the research I have been able to undertake, I am inclined to side with Wehle, rather than the other scholars mentioned, and agree with Wehle's 1927 comment about Robertson miniature copies; "none have thus far come to light". Severens may be correct that Robertson shared sittings with Stuart, but I feel separate sittings are more likely.

I think the initial comment in Dunlap about Robertson making miniature copies, was based upon caustic and untrue comment by Trott, in an endeavour to relegate Robertson's work as beneath Trott's own. What greater insult can one artist make, than to describe a rival whose work he secretly envies, as a copyist?

This leads to the proposition that there are no miniature copies of Stuart oils by Robertson, neither rectangular, not oval. It is therefore suggested that any oval miniatures currently recorded as copies of Stuart oils by Walter Robertson should be reviewed to determine, where possible, if the copyist was actually Benjamin Trott.

(I may not be the first person to suggest this; for example I note that in 1990 Anne Ayer Verplanck wrote a Master's Thesis entitled; "Benjamin Trott: Miniature Painter." However, I do not have access to her work, to see if she arrived at a similar conclusion. Also, if any reader is aware of any 18C references to Robertson copying miniatures, I will be happy to revise my comments.)

With tongue a little in cheek, I therefore suggest that RRR does not stand for "wRong Rectangular Robertsons", but instead stands for "Right Rectangular tRotts".

If this had been a real case for Sherlock Holmes, around this stage Dr Watson would have perhaps said; "Well Holmes, your arguments are convincing and I accept that the initial Dunlap comment about Robertson was likely based upon Trott's artistic envy, but you leave one obvious question unanswered. That is, if the reference to Trott making miniature copies of Stuart oils is so clear, why do scholars prefer to attribute miniature copies to Robertson, when the dates do not fit Robertson? "

One can then imagine Holmes replying; "Elementary, my dear Watson! The clues are already laid out. We are told by Dunlap that Trott burrowed like mole through a miniature painted by Robertson. His reasons were two fold, firstly to understand Robertson's colors, but second to see how Robertson built up background shading. When making copies of Stuart oils, Trott could not adopt his own normal technique of leaving the background with much bare ivory, because the Stuart oils had full colored backgrounds. Dunlap tells us; "Trott longed to be able to imitate the coloring of Walter Robertson". Thus for the backgrounds, Trott imitated Robertson's methods of background hatching. This can be seen in the miniature of Abigail Willing shown above. Trott's skill in imitating Robertson's style for backgrounds when making copies was so successful, that some scholars concluded the miniature copies were by Robertson."

Having considered the question of miniature copies of Stuart oils, we should turn to authentic Robertson miniatures. As he only spent a period of three years in America, Walter Robertson cannot have painted a large number of miniatures there, especially if initially he was making oil copies of Stuart's portraits and also painting his own oil portraits. Thus, at a guess, Robertson probably painted around 30 or 40 miniatures while he was in America. However, more miniatures are claimed for him than he painted and hence attributions to him should require a high standard of proof.

Since making the above guess of 30 or 40 miniatures, I have found the following reference by Frederic Fairchild Sherman in his 1932 book "Early American Painting" where he makes the comment; "Robertson must have enjoyed considerable popularity in the few years he remained in the United States, and probably painted as many as thirty or forty miniatures, eleven of which were shown at the Metropolitan Museum exhibition of American Miniatures in New York City in 1927."

Sherman also comments on Robertson's work, "His style is remarkable for purity of color and precision of drawing, resulting in a highly artistic product, almost on a par with Edward Greene Malbone. His flesh tints are good, the features accurately though sensitively drawn, and the eyes alight with life. The likenesses of George and Martha Washington are among the best we have of that couple; the former work was adopted by other artists as a model, and the latter is unsurpassed, even by Charles Fraser's ivories of elderly women, which are particularly fine."

For the amusement of advanced collectors, and as a warning for beginner collectors, I have included this image of a miniature which was offered for auction on October 31, 2007 by Sunland Auctions of Kansas, see 38. President George Washington Miniature Painting on Ivory

It was described as; "Superb oval image of Washington in military uniform, facing three-quarters left. Image similar to a 1795 miniature painted by Walter Robertson. Framed in an ivory-covered case. Artist signed “Smith” near center right edge, traced to Hely Augustus Morton, British, (1862-1941)" and "museum quality" and had an estimate of $4000/$6000.

I do not know whether it sold, but in my opinion it is far from museum quality. It is a poor decorative miniature worth $150/250 at best and even the artist's name Smith is spurious, as it was probably painted in Germany in the 1920's or 1930's. In fact, I would think the copyist intended the name Smith to be read as Smart, as a deliberate attempt for it to be taken as painted by the famous English artist, John Smart.

Last year I expressed the opinion that several other miniature portraits of George Washington offered at auction in 2007 as attributed to Walter Robertson, were not by him and I still hold to that view, they can be seen at View

As can be seen at that reference, they had estimates as high as $120,000, but did not sell. I believe they were all mediocre copies by late 19C or early 20C copyists and were probably worth $500/1000 each, at the very best. Presumably the vendor had purchased them believing they were by Walter Robertson for substantial values. If so he/she made a very bad investment.

The attribution of an unsigned miniature to Robertson may well be valid for his European period, but as can be seen by the above examples, it is suggested buyers be very wary of any "Walter Robertson" offered as belonging to his American period, particularly if it depicts George Washington. As will be shown below, Robertson's American period miniatures are quite distinctive.

Walter Robertson worked in New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, but then left for India where he died at Futtehpur in 1801 (see Foskett). As he spent so little time in America, his American miniatures are much rarer than those painted in England and Ireland. His brother Charles Robertson also painted miniatures, but never visited America and his style was a little different as shown in this comparison.

Miniatures by Walter Robertson have been described by several authors.

Johnson commented; "Those painted in the United States were all made within three years of one another and vary little in style and technique; faces, too, often tend towards sameness. Portions of the surface that appear to be smooth are actually rendered as a network of very fine hatching and cross-hatching."

Wehle also commented; "Typical of (Walter) Robertson's workmanship are the elegant artificiality of starched frills and powdered hair, the fine cross-hatching of translucent backgrounds and the astonishingly skilful modelling of the heads by means of very fine long brush lines following the facial contours and usually blue in the depressions, notably the eye sockets".

Two other comments about Walter Robertson are made in Dunlap's "History of the art of Design". Dunlap himself says on page 118; "Robertson's style was unique; it was very clear and beautiful, but it was not natural". There may even be a sense of envy by Dunlap as a miniature painter himself, in that comment, as on page 119, Dunlap goes on to say; "Robertson... annoyed Trott. Of Robertson he said, his excellence depended upon the secret he possesed - the chemical composition with which he mixed and used his colors."

Walter Robertson did not sign his work and hence portrait miniatures can only be attributed to him by comparison with other known examples.

Fortunately his work was very distinctive as can be seen from the examples shown here.

To assist with a comparison, the colour image of "C V" has been converted to greyscale for comparison with two Robertson miniatures illustrated in American Miniatures by Henry Wehle and as shown here.

Identifications of the two miniatures, reveal they are of a daughter, Hester Rose Tidyman (>1772-1816) of Charleston who was married on 6 Oct 1794 to John Drayton (1766-1822), Governor of South Carolina, and her mother, Mrs Philip Tidyman (also named Hester Rose) of Charleston, who had married Philip Tidyman on 13 Oct 1772.

Harry Wehle's 1927 comment about the miniature of Hester Rose Tidyman could, apart from eye colour, just as easily apply to the miniature of "C V" ,when Wehle said; "This portrait, showing Hester Rose Tidyman at the age of twenty, is perhaps the most charming of Walter Robertson's works. In it, everything - bright sky, starched frills, translucent flesh, glowing pearls and powdered coiffure of marvellous elaboration - seems to be daintily contrived to play up a lovely pair of brown eyes".

As the two ladies both came from Charleston, it seems possible as Wehle comments, that Walter Robertson visited Charleston. The similarity of style is immediately obvious, so much so that the sitter "C V" could even be related to the ladies.

Two further miniature by Walter Robertson and again of very similar style are shown, the one in color here of Elizabeth Pollock Hartigan. This is part of the Portrait Miniature Collection in the National Museum of American Art, see Mrs. Elizabeth Pollock Hartigan

The one in greyscale is of Margaret Izard and is in the Metropolitan Museum, see The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Works of Art: American Paintings ...

These examples are all very similar in style and thus useful in attributing other miniatures of women.

Unfortunately, the sitter in the miniature now added to this Artists and Ancestors Collection is unidentified, although the reverse does contain ornate gold initials which read "C V". There is a substantial lock of hair under the initials. Thus, with modern DNA techniques, it may be possible to identify the sitter by the initials and then confirm the sitter through DNA analysis.

A New York, Philadelphia, or perhaps Charleston resident of 1795 with the initials "C V" is a start point. A possibility is a relation of Catharine Van Rensselaer, see Mrs. Philip John Schuyler (Catherine van Rensselaer) 1287

Obviously, I do not know whether any miniature experts are still reading this post, or have given up! However, if any expert is still reading, perhaps they can assist with the following attempt to re-attribute some miniatures.

Having, rightly or wrongly, cast some doubt on Walter Robertson attributions, I hope it does not muddy the water too much further if I attempt to redress the balance for any work "lost" to Robertson through re-attributions to Benjamin Trott!

For example references to the four miniatures shown here have been found, and which may represent an opportunity to make some new attributions to Walter Robertson.

They are contained within the collection of the American Antiquarian Society and the four miniature portraits are currently attributed to Archibald Robertson.

Unfortunately the AAS catalogue by Lareun Hewes, although an excellent publication, does not show the miniatures in color.

However, the style is quite different to the style of Archibald Robertson, as appearing in the examples shown in the Manney Collection and within the NYHS collection.

It currently seems to me that the top two at least are instead by Walter Robertson. They are of Mary Craigie Foster (1751-1815) and Andrew Craigie Jr (1754-1819). The "nose and pose" is the same as other Walter Robertson miniatures. In addition the background hatching is the same as for Walter Robertson miniatures.

At least one of the bottom two may well also be by Walter Robertson. They are of Bossenger Foster Jr (1767-1816) and Elizabeth Gardner Craigie (1715-1791).

That of Elizabeth Gardner Craigie has the same nose and pose, and hatching, as other Robertson miniatures, but she had died in 1791, before Walter Robertson reached America.

However, even the AAS proposes the miniature being painted c1800. Thus it would need to be copied from an earlier portrait. (Alternatively, there is a possibility the sitter has been mis-identified, as the costume being c1795/1800 and apparent age of the sitter at say 60 years of age i.e. therefore painted c1775, do not seem to fit with Elizabeth Gardner Graigie, who died in 1791 at at age 76. If there was another family member born around 1735, they may instead be the sitter.)

If there is agreement Walter Robertson did paint the Craigie miniature and also the sitter is confirmed, then it becomes the exception that proves the rule, i.e. Robertson did not make miniature copies from oils, except where the sitter was deceased.

That of Bossenger Foster however looks a little different in style and is higher on the ivory than Walter Robertson miniatures. My knowledge is not sufficient to rule him out as being by Archibald Robertson, but he may be by neither Walter Robertson, nor Archibald Robertson.

Thus to summarise for any reader who has persevered this far, my proposition which now invites expert comment is:

Although several major art museums, including the Metropolitan, hold both rectangular and oval miniature portraits which they have attributed to Walter Robertson, as copies of Gilbert Stuart oil portraits, I believe the attributions are incorrect. I tend to the opinion that Walter Robertson did not make any miniature copies of Gilbert Stuart oils during his brief stay in America between 1793 and 1796. Instead other artists should be looked to as the painters of such copies. The most likely being Benjamin Trott.

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