February - Portrait of Harriet Josephine Turner

This addition is not a miniature portrait, but has been included here, as has been done with other identified portraits, to assist any interested family historian who is researching their family history on the Internet. The sight size is 33cm x 29cm.

It has been sitting on my wall since it was purchased at an Internet auction several years ago. I had forgotten it had a note on the reverse until I took it down to try and research the frame.

The note as recorded below, shows the great benefit of even a brief description on any portrait, as a means of making a portrait much more interesting. In my mind, to know the sitter almost converts a two-dimensional portrait to being three-dimensional.

Some interesting detective work has enabled identification of the sitter.

I am not sure whether I have said it previously, but identifying a sitter and building up the details of their life is a little like the police conducting a murder enquiry (not that I have ever conducted a murder enquiry, but I do read a lot of detective fiction!).

One often starts with a body (the sitter) with few or no clues to their identity. Solid detective work is then needed, often including many blind alley investigations, to properly identify the sitter, find out who were their relations, where they lived and any important incidents in their own, or their close relations' lives, to end up with a picture of their life.

This helps to determine where the "crime" took place (i.e. where the portrait was painted) which in turn helps to identify the "perp", or perpetrator ( i.e. the artist). If there is a confession (a signature) it is usually easy to identify the "perp", but handwriting analysis or language translation, is sometimes needed for indistinct signatures or inscriptions in foreign languages.

Where there is no confession (signature), more detective work is needed.

The where and when of the "crime", i.e. when the year it was painted, helps to determine whether the "perp" had the "opportunity" to paint the portrait, for example that they were working in the city or area concerned at the time the portrait is believed to have been painted.

The motive of the "perp" is fairly self evident. They were seeking payment for each portrait, to feed themselves and their family. Their "means" is also self evident, i.e. paint and brushes, but the degree of planning, execution, and skill will vary widely.

But to identify the "perp" for an unsigned miniature, where there is no confession (i.e. no signature) requires more work. There the modus operandi of the "perp" needs to be studied in detail, the crime scene (i.e. the type of frame and any background images), the nature of the pose, the proportions within the frame space, the colours used, the painting technique, details of the brush-work etc., all to make an identification (attribution) of the "perp" i.e. the artist.

An attempt to pick the "perp" out of a "criminal lineup" will be conducted wherever possible, to see if other known images by a known perp (artist) show sufficient similar characteristics to conclude they are by the same person.

During all this process it is necessary to follow up clues, reconcile conflicting information, and seek confirming evidence.

Some information obtained from different sources can be in conflict, often birth dates vary by a year or two or perhaps more, but one can generally become fairly confident of finding the right family. Other differences can be as below; where in one census the name is Harriet J Nichol and in the next census is H Josephine Nichol. Also there can be other name variations for example the name Nichol, is spelled Nicoll in the the note on the rear of the frame

Currently the artist is unknown, but it is hoped an attribution can be made at some stage.

On the reverse is a later hand written note which reads "Portrait of my mother - H Josephine (Turner) Nicoll - Painted in Boston at the age of 4 years. Painted from life. - Mary N Kirkpatrick".

After investigating a number of blind alleys, the sitter has been identified as Harriet Josephine Turner (18 Jul 1834-?) the elder daughter of Larkin Turner (1781-2 Feb 1861) and his second wife Lucy Pierce (26 Jul 1803-20 Feb 1886) who were married on 23 May 1833. Harriet was born either in Grafton, Worcester, MS or Charlestown, Suffolk, MS

There is a family tree at HATCH which includes Harriet Josephine Turner and shows her pedigree back to her earliest known ancestor, John At Heeche (1415-1464) who lived in Kent, England, with his later descendants emigrating to America in the early 17C.

Harriet's father, Larkin Turner was born in Grafton, MS in 1781 and became a ship's captain. His first wife was Sally Gould (1791-1832). At the following website there is more information about Larkin Turner, see Larkin Turner There is also reference to him at Larkin Turner Collection (Coll. 95)

Captain Larkin Turner has been described as a famous American ship captain. As of mid February his sextant, as shown here, is available for purchase at West Sea Co. NAUTICAL INSTRUMENTS Catalog Page 3 He served on at least the following ships;
Ship CALUMET, January 31, 1804 - August 30, 1805
PRINT, April 19 - August 9, 1806
PACTOTUS, March 15 - August 21, 1807
NABBY, September 10, 1810 - November 28, 1811
TRIM, August 20 - September 24, 1819
PALESTINE, February 3 - November 20, 1832
HENRY, October 13 - November 4, 1834

In the 1860 census, Larkin Turner was aged 78 and Lucy was 57. Larkin disclosed assets of $10,000 and Harriet still lived at home at the age of 36.

Thus Harriet was over 36 when she married Edward Nichol (1838-?) sometime between 1860 and 1868 and they moved to Wheeling, Ohio, WV. In the 1870 census Edward stated his occupation as "pictures and framer" and his assets as $1500. Harriet called herself Harriet J Nichol. Harriet and Edward had one child at that stage William (1869-?), but they were quite well off as they had a live in servant.

It was initially hard to find them in the 1880 census as Harriet had then called herself H Josephine Nichol. They had four children; William 11, Grace L 7, Mary E 5, and Edward L 3.

Mary E Nichol (12 Oct 1874-1 Mar 1963) married William Alexander Kirkpatrick (21 Aug 1874-17 May 1917) in August 1906 at Wheeling, WV. She is the author of the note on the reverse of the frame.

Generally, 30 years is regarded as a benchmark for estimating generations, but in this instance Mary Nichol was born in 1874, 93 years after her grandfather was born in 1781 and 42 years after her mother's birth in 1834. Thus, here the average for two generations is over 46 years.

In the 1910 census, William was a wholesale grocery buyer and he and Mary had one child, Edward N Kirkpatrick aged 20 months.

In the 1920 census, William had died and Mary was living with her father-in-law, James H Kirkpatrick (1832-?) a retired farmer, her sister-in-law Susannah Kirkpatrick (1867-?) who was a teacher, and her two children Edward N Kirkpatrick (1909-?) and William F Kirkpatrick (1911-?).

The 1930 census shows James Kirkpatrick had died. Susannah 60, and Mary 47 her sister-in-law, lived together with Mary's sons, Edward 21, now a shipping clerk and William 19, an apprentice machinist.

It seems likely this oil portrait came onto the market after the death of Edward or William, or else of one of their children.

An attempt has been made to search the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, to look for similar American oil portraits, with a view to trying to make an attribution, but I have concluded MFA has one of the poorest online self-help search facilities of any museum I have viewed. There only six available sort categories; Accession number, Artist, Cat. raissone, Culture, Has image, and Title

Thus it seems to be a typical art museum search system, designed for use by MFA staff. That is to say, a system that assumes a researcher knows the exact portrait they want to see, e.g. by accession number or title, and then finds it. Thus the six sort categories are pretty hopeless for any non MFA researcher to use to browse as an aid in making attributions.

There are no clear example instructions for searching and the system is quite slow, although not the slowest I have found. Every attempt I made to cull the list of 1041 portraits down to American oil portraits failed. I kept coming back to a list of 1041 portraits under one or other of the six sort categories, including portraits from all over the world.

With such a slow response time, the thought of ploughing through 1041 images was too much to contemplate and so I reluctantly gave up.

No comments: