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Museum Collection Highlights
Elisha Kent Kane, M.D. (1820-1857)
Oil on canvas
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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. Named after his paternal grandfather, William Beekman (1754-1808) lived up to the scholarly hopes his parents had for him when they commissioned this portrait. Portrayed at age thirteen, he holds a book filled with Latin text, while Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses sit on the shelf behind him. William graduated from “Prince Town Colledge” (now Princeton University) in 1773 and returned for an additional year of study in 1774. 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. 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 moved to Virginia, where his painting style changed. He lived in Virginia for most of the remainder of his life, though his late paintings never gained him the critical acclaim or popular response that his early New York works did.
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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