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Two Standing Figures, and a Head Study, Possibly the Ornithologist John James Audubon

Not on view

Two Standing Figures, and a Head Study, Possibly the Ornithologist John James Audubon

Artist: John Vanderlyn (American, 1775 - 1852)

Date: c. 1824
Medium: Pen and black and brown iron gall ink, with black dry media (and graphite?), on blue-colored, medium-weight wove paper
Overall: 11 x 8 3/8in. (27.9 x 21.3cm)
Signed: Verso, lower-right: "#1A" (enclosed in a circle)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 67.33
Text Entries

When this drawing was on the art market in 1967 it was identified as depicting Alexander Hamilton, possibly because the largest standing figure resembles in costume and pose Archibald Robertson’s famous 1805 print of Hamilton.(1) Several years later, in a short note about the identity of the largest head in the drawing, Edward H. Dwight claimed that it depicted John J. Audubon.(2)

In the summer of 1824 Vanderlyn was painting a full- length portrait of Andrew Jackson for the City of Charleston.(3) A Charleston newspaper reported that Vanderlyn had completed Jackson’s likeness but that the figure still remained to be painted.(4) That same summer, when Audubon was in New York City, he helped Vanderlyn plan the figures pose. On August 10 Audubon recorded in his journal why he was able to assist: “Met the artist Vanderlyn, who asked me to give him a sitting for a portrait of General Jackson, since my figure considerably resembled that of the General, more than any he had ever seen.”(5) Mindful of this incident, Dwight noted that the largest head in Vanderlyn’s sheet “with curly hair, high forehead, large features and strong chin resembles closely other likenesses of Audubon, particularly his self-portrait done about 1824.”(6)

Vanderlyn executed the MWPI drawing with a rich web of thick and thin lines in several media. First, he loosely sketched the basic features of both figures and the head and then reinforced the designs in ink. The two full-length figures show him experimenting with different arm and leg positions. The larger figure and area surrounding it were covered with broad gray strokes. For highlights he left small areas of the blue paper visible, principally along the left side of the figure’s torso.

The MWPI sheet may originally have been part of a tablet, for along its top edge there are traces of adhesive to which small fragments of another sheet of blue paper remain attached. At least one other Vanderlyn drawing, Study for the Baptism of Christ (after Poussin), has virtually identical dimensions to those of the MWPI drawing, as well as a similar provenance. It too was executed on blue paper and may have come from the same tablet.(7)


1. For the MWPI drawing as a portrait of Alexander Hamilton see American Drawings, Pastels and Watercolors, 64.

2. Dwight's comments appeared in Lindsay, Works of John Vanderlyn, 131, cat. no. 33.

3. Vanderlyn’s portrait of Jackson hangs in the Council Chamber, City Hall, Charleston, S.C. See Michael Quick, American Portraiture in the Grand Manner: 1720- 1920 (Los Angeles, Calif: Los Angeles County Museum ofArt, 1981), 138-39.

4. The Charleston Courier, July 14, 1824, cited in Anna Wells Rutledge, Artists in the Life of Charleston (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1949), 132.

5. Lucy Audubon, ed., Life of John James Audubon, the Naturalist (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1883), 107.

6. Dwight quoted in Lindsay, Vanderlyn, 131. For an illustration of the self-portrait by Audubon that Dwight mentioned, see Alice Ford, John James Audubon (Norman, 31 Okla; University of Oklahoma Press, 1964), facing 18.

7. The drawing, at Kennedy Galleries in New York City, was published in American Drawings, Pastels and Watercolors, 68; and in Lindsay, Vanderlyn, 125, cat. no. 11, illustrated on 19, The similarity of the Study for the Baptism of Christ (after Poussin) and the MWPI sheets has led William T. Oedel to suggest that the MWPI drawing was made in Paris, and may have more to do with Napoleon than with an American subject. William T. Oedel to author, March 12, 1994, curatorial files, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute.


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