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Museum Collection Highlights
Original Owner:John Butler Snook
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This is one of the six portraits of his eldest children James Beekman (1732-1807) commissioned from John Durand in the 1760s. Catharine Beekman, nicknamed Caty, is shown at age five holding a bird, a common household pet in colonial America and perhaps the bird James purchased for his wife in 1764. That the young girl could train a bird to perch on her hand was a sign of her exceptional character. Caty also fingers the stem of a potted flowering plant placed on an architectural pediment, a pose strikingly similar to that of the Duchess of Bolton, as depicted in a popular engraving of the time. According to her father’s account book, Caty attended the school of Mrs. Ann Rogers from 1770 to 1773 and that of Lydia Belknap in 1773. In 1805 she married Elisha Boudinot, a lawyer and New Jersey Supreme Court Justice.
John Durand (1731-1805) first began working in Virginia in 1765, but by 1766 had moved to New York City to paint portraits of the Beekman children for their father James Beekman. Durand’s background and training are unknown, but his use of rococo colors, interest in historical paintings and reference to his name in French lead art historians to believe he was born or trained in France. He left New York in 1768 as one of the city’s most celebrated painters and returned to Virginia, where he lived for most of the remainder of his life. The style of his late work executed in Virginia changed notably, never garnering him the critical acclaim and popular response his early New York portraits had received.
All six portraits of the Beekman children bear elaborately carved and gilded frames by the New York carver James Strachan, which are superior examples of rococo ornament, a style all the rage among the American colonial elite during the mid-eighteenth century. The children's portraits, as well as those of James Beekman and his wife, remained in the Beekman family until presented to the New-York Historical Society through the Beekman Family Association.
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
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