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Portrait of Thomas R. Proctor

On view

Portrait of Thomas R. Proctor

Artist: Irving R. Wiles (American, 1861 - 1948)

Date: 1908
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
Overall: 44 x 36in. (111.8 x 91.4cm)
Signed: Upper right: 'Irving R. Wiles 1908'
Credit Line: Proctor Collection
Object number: PC. 118
Label Text
Wiles painted this portrait of the sixty-four-year-old Thomas Proctor two years after completing the pendant portrait of his Thomas's wife, Maria. The Proctors were involved at this time in several philanthropic projects for their community, including the donation of land for a new public library, and an ambitious park system.

The Proctors' enthusiasm for portraiture is demonstrated by the efforts they made to ornament their home with numerous ancestral portraits, many of which are now in the Museum's collection. They also established, in 1904, the Thomas R. Proctor Prize at New York's National Academy of Design, a $200 award presented each year to the artist that a selection committee determined had painted the best portrait displayed that year in the Academy's tradition-bound annual exhibitions.

The traditional connections between femininity and nature that Wiles successfully achieved in his portrait of Maria contrasts with this more sober presentation of Thomas, who is shown in a dark, indistinct interior, holding a newspaper-a conventional emblem in portraiture signifying his role as a man of the world. The masculine aura of this work is reinforced by the Spanish, Renaissance-style chair Thomas is sitting in, called a frailero ("friar's chair"), which features plain wooden supports, a red fabric back panel and a seat fastened to the frame with large, decorative nails. The gold and carnelian signet ring on Thomas's left hand, now in the Museum's collection, has an intaglio engraved image of a dove below the Latin word, FIDELE.

The small decoration Thomas is shown proudly wearing in his left lapel is probably the red, white, and blue rosette of The Order of the Founders and Patriots of America. This hereditary society was created a decade earlier by individuals who traced their ancestry back to any colonist who settled in America prior to May 13, 1657, and whose forefathers in the same male ancestral line additionally served in the American Revolution. It was one of a number of hereditary and patriotic fraternal organizations to which Thomas belonged.
PDS



(American Couples text)
Several pictorial details that Wiles included in this pair of portraits assist the viewer in their encounter with the subjects. Maria Proctor is shown seated in an elegant, Hepplewhite-style, shield-back armchair. The book in her lap, and the evening primrose flowers on the table beside her, are gendered attributes that allude to her education and refinement. According to the "language of flowers," the evening primrose signifies "silent love." It is noteworthy that Maria is the only woman in this exhibition who is represented with such "intellectual" attributes. In the complementary portrait of Thomas Proctor, the artist depicted a gold ring on Thomas's left hand. This is likely a carnelian intaglio signet ring now in the Museum's collection. An engraved image on this ring depicts a dove holding an olive branch in its beak, a common symbol of peace. Above the dove is the word, "FIDELE," from the Latin noun fid?le, meaning "loyalty." The sentiment suggested by this word and image complements the expression of affection suggested by the evening primroses in Maria's portrait.

Text Entries
Wiles portrayed the fifty-four-year-old Maria Proctor fifteen years after she and Thomas were married. Two years later he painted the pendant portrait of Thomas, then sixty-four years old. Decades after completing the pair, Wiles recollected in a letter to the Museum's director, Harris K. Prior, that both works were painted, in his New York City studio.(1) Shortly before the portraits were painted the Proctors initiated several philanthropic projects for their community. In 1900, they donated land on the east side of Genesee Street, diagonally across from their home, for a new public library. The cornerstone was set in the spring of 1903 and the building was dedicated on December 12, 1904. Four years later they donated hundreds of acres of undeveloped land just outside the city for use as public parks, with walks, drives, gardens and plantings designed by the preeminent landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (1870-1957).

Several factors may have led the Proctors to commission Wiles to paint these portraits.(2) The artist was one of a select group of fashionable, turn-of-the-century American painters like William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) and J. Carroll Beckwith (1852-1917) who enjoyed considerable notoriety as portraitists. Additionally, Wiles was born in Utica; his father Lemuel M. Wiles (1826-1905) taught drawing in the Utica's public schools and, from about 1857 to 1863, also held the position of Librarian at the Utica City School District Library, then located on the second floor of the city's Richard Upjohn (1802-78) designed Italianate-style City Hall (1852).(3)

The Proctors' enthusiasm for portraiture-a taste they shared with other early-twentieth century patrician families with lineages reaching back to America's pre-Colonial era-is demonstrated by the efforts they made to ornament their home with numerous ancestral portraits, many of which are now in the Museum's collection. Their interest in portraiture also led them to ask the Richfield Springs, N.Y. native, Thomas R. Manley (1853-1938) to paint portrait miniatures of the couple in 1902 and 1903 (PC. 436 & PC. 437). They also established, in 1904, the Thomas R. Proctor Prize at New York's National Academy of Design, a $200 award presented each year to the artist that a selection committee determined had painted the best portrait displayed that year in the Academy's tradition-bound annual exhibitions.(4)

The life-size scale of the figures in Wiles's Proctor portraits, comparable in size to at least one other ancestral portrait the family owned, bespeaks the pride and social ambitions of a well-to-do American couple eager to record their place in history.(5) This fashionable pair, who gaze at the viewer with poise and self-assurance, reflect the aspirations, social graces, polite deportment and courtly demeanor of America's Gilded Age elite.

By arranging the couple as he did, with Thomas at Maria's left, Wiles ignored the traditional Western convention-derived from medieval heraldry and practiced in traditional Christian marriage ceremonies-where the woman (or, in a coat of arms, her armorial device) is on the left. Furthermore, by depicting his subjects seated, Wiles used a format that Renaissance portraitists traditionally reserved for clerics, in contrast to official portraits of monarchs and heads of state that, according to the rhetoric of Grand Manner portraiture, should be portrayed standing.     

For the Proctor pair, Wiles used a wealth of pictorial details to denote their social status. In the earlier of the two works, Maria is shown seated in an elegant, Hepplewhite-style, shield-back armchair. Her fashionable two-part dress features a mono-bosom bodice of silk damask that is fronted with a chiffon panel. The bodice is ornamented at the neck and sleeves with lace that could have been hand or machine made, and is gathered at the waist with a sash. Maria's separate damask split skirt featured what is likely a chiffon underskirt at the center.(6)

The flamboyant passages of creamy white and gray paint that Wiles used for the folds of Maria's bodice and skirt recall the brushstrokes that his contemporary, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), the leading portraitist of his generation in both the United States and Europe, used when he painted fabric.   Maria is posed in an outdoor setting against an indistinct foliage background that is rendered in warm colors reminiscent of the tonalities favored by the 18th-century English portraitist, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), whose works were extraordinarily popular in the United States during the Gilded Age. The book in Maria's lap and the evening primrose flowers on the table next to her allude to her education and refinement. According to the 19th century's "language of flowers" the evening primrose signifies "silent love."(7)

The formality of Maria's demeanor is reinforced by the presence of the purse hanging from her waist, an unusual detail in formal portraits of this era.(8) Its decorative beadwork (or embroidery) was depicted with painterly flourishes that are reminiscent of the brushwork in 17th-century European portraits by Frans Hals (ca. 1581-1666) and Diego Velásquez (1599-1660) that Wiles saw on his travels to Holland and Spain several years before he painted this work.(9) Wiles's ability to please his clients with a flattering likeness is evident in a letter that one of Maria's friends wrote shortly after seeing the picture in the artist's New York City studio. She approvingly remarked to Maria that it was "a 'speaking likeness.' He has caught your own sweet smile."(10)
Thomas's portrait, by contrast, is a more sober representation. Letters between Wiles and Thomas in 1908 indicate that it was painted relatively quickly. On November 20th the artist requested that the first sitting take place in the morning of December 2nd "so as to have as much as possible the same light as during the remaining sittings." He added: "If as you say you will stay until the 12th there will be ample time to complete the portrait."(11)

The traditional connection between femininity and nature that Wiles successfully achieved in his portrait of Maria contrasts with his presentation of Thomas, who is shown in a dark, indistinct interior, holding a newspaper-a conventional emblem in portraiture signifying his role as a man of the world.(12) The masculine aura of this work is reinforced by the Spanish, Renaissance-style chair Thomas is sitting in, called a frailero ("friar's chair"), which features plain wooden supports, a red fabric back panel and a seat fastened to the frame with large, decorative nails.(13) The gold and carnelian signet ring on Thomas's left hand, now in the Museum's collection, features an intaglio engraved decoration with what might possibly be a veiled allusion of his affection for Maria.(14)

The small decoration Thomas is shown proudly wearing in his left lapel is probably the red, white, and blue rosette of The Order of the Founders and Patriots of America. This hereditary society was created a decade earlier by individuals who traced their ancestry back to any colonist who settled in America prior to May 13, 1657, and whose forefathers in the same male ancestral line additionally served in the American Revolution.(15) It was one of a number of hereditary and patriotic fraternal organizations to which Thomas belonged.(16)
PDS
May 2011/January 2012 

Notes:

1. Transcription of a letter from Wiles to Harris K. Prior, January 30, 1948, Irving R. Wiles curatorial fie. Neither portrait is listed in Wiles ledger records, as published in Geoffrey K. Fleming, Irving Ramsay Wiles, N.A., 1861-1948: Portraits and Pictures, 1899-1948. Southold Historical Society, 2010, 103ff. The two works may have been recorded by Wiles in his first ledger which, Fleming noted (p. 59), "exists today only in fragmentary form (a mere twelve pages survive), and so we are left with an incomplete record of his early [italics added] career." Similarly, the second ledger "does not record every work he created" (Fleming, p. 60).

2. In 1932 Wiles also painted two portraits of Frederick T. Proctor, both in the Museum's collection; PC.115 and PC.116. Correspondence between Wiles and Mrs. Thomas Proctor about these works is in the Museum's Irving R. Wiles curatorial file. For Wiles's ledger entries for these two portraits, see Fleming, Irving Ramsey Wiles, 222.

3. Malio J. Cardarelli, For the Common Good: a 200-Year History of the Utica Library System. Utica, N.Y.: Icon Office Solutions, 2002, 4; and Geoffrey K. Fleming, Lemuel Maynard Wiles: A Record of His Works, 1864-1904. Southold, N.Y.: Southold Historical Society, 2009, 20. Lemuel Wiles's painting, Valley of the Genesee from Sheldon Farm, Moscow, N.Y., 1870, now in the Museum's collection; 85.29, was given by Irving Wiles to the Utica Public Library in 1918; see Fleming, Lemuel Maynard Wiles, 27. 

4. The Thomas R. Proctor Prize "for a meritorious portrait" is still awarded by the National Academy of Design. During Thomas's lifetime at least twenty artists received it. Some of the more noteworthy include Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942) in 1915, Frank W. Benson (1862-1951) in 1906, William M. Chase (1849-1916) in 1912 and Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) in 1905. David B. Dearinger, Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design. Volume 1, 1826-1925. New York: Hudson Hill Press, 2004, 281, 616. References to the catalog entries for the artists who received the Proctor Prize between 1904 and 1930 are in the index of this book.

5. Another life-size portrait the Proctor family owned was Ralph Earl's (1751-1801) 1791 portrait of Mrs. John Watson; PC. 42. It descended though the sitter's family to her great-grandson, James Watson Williams (1808-73), the husband of Helen Elizabeth Munson (1824-94), and thence to their daughters, Rachel and Maria Proctor. Paul D. Schweizer, Masterworks of American Art from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989, 19.

6. The details of Maria's dress were described by Cynthia Amneus, Curator of Fashion Arts and Textiles, Cincinnati Art Museum, when she examined Wiles's portrait in June 2011 with Anna T. D'Ambrosio, Asst. Museum Director and Curator of Decorative Arts.

7. The Language and Poetry of Flowers, and Poetic Handbook of Wedding Anniversary Pieces, Album Verses, and Valentines. New York: Hurst & Co., 1878, 50. See also, in this book, pp. 87-89, references to the evening primrose in literature from Shakespeare to the poems of John Keats and John Clare. 

8. According to Cynthia Amneus (see note 5). The purse in Wiles's painting may be the same one that Maria Proctor is holding in a Proctor family photograph by the Matzene Studio, in MWPAI's archives; PP.FAM4: 6.2.

9. For Wiles's trips to Holland and Spain, see Irving Ramsey Wiles: 1861-1948. New York: Chapellier Gallery, 1967, 2.

10. Mary W. Goodwin to Maria Proctor, ca. December 1906, Irving R. Wiles curatorial file. Goodwin also wrote in the same letter to Maria: "I really want him [Wiles] to see the picture Mr. Darby painted of you and Rachel, now that this [Wiles portrait] is done. I'm glad he did not see it first however." Goodwin is referring to the portrait that Henry F. Darby (1831-97) painted of Maria and Rachel in 1857 when they were young girls, now in the Museum's collection; PC.32. 

11. Wiles to Thomas R. Proctor, November 20, 1908, Irving R. Wiles curatorial file. In this letter Wiles pointed out: "Please note that I shall be then at 130-W-57 St. instead of the old place on 55th St." From about 1908 to 1935 Wiles had a studio and home in a duplex apartment at 130 West 57th St. For a photograph of the interior of this studio, see Reynolds, Irving R. Wiles, fig. 12. Visible in this photograph, to the right of where Wiles is seated, is a hanging fabric with a bold decorative pattern that is similar in appearance to the drapery the artist included on the left side of Thomas's portrait.

12. On the masthead of this newspaper Wiles painted three letters: "ESS," which was meant to suggest, perhaps, that Thomas is holding a copy of the Utica Press which, when this picture was painted, was published by Otto Angus Meyer (1861-1945), Thomas and Maria's close friend, consultant and financial advisor. Meyer played a key role in the design of the Utica Public Library, served as a trustee of the library and later was one of the founding trustees of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute. The three exhibition galleries on the second floor of Fountain Elms are named in his honor. Thomas Proctor, in turn, was a member of the Utica Press Company's board of directors; see "Thomas R. Proctor Called by Death," The Utica Observer, July 6, 1920, 13.

13. The same, or a similar, chair appears in Wiles's 1918 portrait of Robert Hendre Kelby in the collection of the New-York Historical Society, N.Y. The painting is illustrated in Gary A. Reynolds, Irving R. Wiles. New York: National Academy of Design, pl. 44.

14. The gold ring is likely the carnelian intaglio signet ring in the Museum's collection; PC.708.7. The engraved image depicts what is possibly a dove holding an olive branch in its beak, a common symbol of peace. Above this is the word, "FIDELE," from the Latin noun fid?le, meaning "loyalty." The sentiment suggested by the ring's engraved word and image complements in a potentially meaningful way the expression of affection that is suggested through the "language of flowers" by the evening primroses that appear in Maria's portrait. Another, slightly larger carnelian intaglio signet ring in the Museum's collection; PC.708.8, possibly Hellenistic, is less likely the one depicted in the painting. Its engraved image depicts a profile image of the seated figure of the Greek god Zeus, accompanied by his attribute, the eagle. Below this are the Greek letters (or word?): "KPMWOY."

15. The rosette was identified in 2005 by Anna T. D'Ambrosio, Curator of Decorative Arts, with the help of Museum intern, Katherine Chaike, Cooperstown Graduate Program. It is now in the Museum's collection; PC.2036. The rosette is likely the one that also appears in the Museum's 1903 Thomas R. Manley (1853-1938) miniature of Thomas R. Proctor; PC. 436; as well as the Richard F. Maynard (1875-1952) portrait of Thomas Proctor; 62.4; an undated painting of Thomas; PC.91, by Melvin B. Ray (1853-1937), and a portrait photograph by Chicago's Moffett Studio, in MWPAI's archives; PP.TRP47.c.1.

16. Other hereditary and fraternal organizations that Thomas belonged to include the Loyal Legion of America, the Mayflower Society, the Naval League of the United States, the New England Society of New York, the Society of Colonial Wars, the Sons of the American Revolution, and the Utica Citizens Corps. See "Thomas R. Proctor Called by Death," The Utica Observer, July 6, 1920, 13.



Copyright
Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s).