Friday, May 11, 2012

Portrait of a Future Wife

The William Matthew Prior portraits are coming in and we are laying them out in the gallery. This is one of my favorite parts of the job, seeing artwork come together and shaping multiple pieces into a coherent exhibition. The exhibition is shaping up nicely, but the most fascinating thing has been the inscriptions on the reverse of many of the canvases. I thought I would share a few of those with you.

Here is Prior's portrait of his future wife, Rosamond. He met her when he went from his hometown of Bath, Maine, to Portland to seek training in the painting trade. After arriving in town, he went to the best known house painter in the area, Avery Hamblin. As luck would have it, Avery had a daughter. Here she is. Prior painted her in 1824 and married her in 1828.

The inscription reads: "W. M. Prior, Painter, formerly of Bath, 1824, 3 piece on cloth, painted in C. Codman's shop, Portland, Maine." Codman was a marine painter that Prior trained with in his early years.

In making such a detailed inscription Prior was documenting himself in preparation for an artistic career. What we may never know is what personal thoughts he may have had in mind while painting Rosamond. He may have been showing off a bit for her by adding so much detail. It does seem that he made the right first stop when arriving in Portland, and certainly had a flair for impressing his patrons.


  1. Hey Paul,

    In your opinion, is this a real William Matthew Prior?:

    His style seems to have changed a lot during his career. I did see a George Washington portrait online that looked very similar to this one.

  2. I see the similarity too, but you always have to be careful with these reverse glass paintings. There is no way to be certain basing an opinion on a photograph. I'll look more closely at the George Washingtons in our exhibition and let you know what I think.

  3. Yeah, really hard to tell. I'd say buyer beware just in case...


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