Monday, September 28, 2009

"Mysterious Painting of a Harpist"

I have so many photos from past trips that I haven't processed and sent web-ward yet. Right now, I'm sifting through photos from two years ago, our trip to Washington, D.C. Julia and I spent two of our days there visiting the National Gallery of Art.

When I had the following painting by Sully up in the Photoshop screen, Julia exclaimed, "I've seen that painting before!" I replied, "Of course you have, we saw it at the National Gallery of Art!"

Lady with a Harp: Eliza Ridgely
by Thomas Sully (American, 1783-1872)
oil on canvas, 1818
Overall: 214.5 x 142.5 cm (84 7/16 x 56 1/8 in.
Gift of Maude Monell Vetlesen 1945.9.1

"But no, I've seen it before, in Maryland!" I then remembered she had made the same exclamation two years ago. She suggested I do research on Ridgely Mansion, that she had seen the painting of the young woman with a harp there, and the harp itself.

Alice Morse Earle refers to this piece in _Two Centuries of Costume in America 1620-1820, Volume 2_:
"The second portrait shows an equally graceful figure standing by a harp. This is the beautiful Eliza Ridgely, who married John Ridgely, who was not related to her; the ancestor of each came to Maryland in the seventeenth century, unknown to the other. This portrait is deemed Sully's masterpiece. It hangs in the great hall at Hampton, the Ridgely mansion-house in Baltimore County, Maryland." (page 793)

She offered a grayscale image of it. But the photo from 1903 is not very clear. Also she gave a date of 1805 for its creation. Did Sully do two versions?

Maryland Historical Society mentions "Eliza E. [Ridgely] Ridgely's (1803-1867) papers". Ms. Earle can't have the right date, for Eliza would have been only two years old then. The Maryland Historical Society page refers to Sully's painting of her, as well, "a portrait", not 'two portraits'.

Finally, my search revealed the answer. This mansion, now part of Hampton National Park, has been perserved as it was then in the early 1880's. "Jlee008" explains:
"Although many of the 16 rooms are closed to the public, the ones which are shown are decorated as close to the original decor as possible. All the furniture and paintings (save one painting which is a copy...the original hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC) in the house belonged to the Ridgely family who owned and lived there."

The mystery is solved!

(I also located at Flicker the copy which hangs in the mansion's center hall!)

Taken by 'hikerpark' September 21, 2008

The Ridgely mansion version must be quite smaller, as I had to step back quite aways to lose the size distortion:

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