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Portrait of Henry Gibbs

Freake-Gibbs Painter

Portrait of Henry Gibbs

oil on canvas

1995 Gift of Mrs. David M. Giltinan, Sr.

In colonial New England, portraits were painted to highlight the social status of a person or to honor the memory of a patron. "Portrait of Henry Gibbs" is a rare Puritan portrait -- one of only 24 colonial American portraits that are known to be in existence today. Included in this group are three portraits of the Gibbs children (Robert, Margaret, Henry) that were painted by an anonymous artist in Boston. Henry was the youngest child of Robert Gibbs who was a successful merchant in colonial Boston. The Puritans believed that material prosperity was a sign of God's favor.

"Portrait of Henry Gibbs" was painted by an artist trained in the Elizabethan style of portraiture that was practiced in 17th century England and in colonial America. This style of portraiture typically presented the subject in a semi-frontal pose with elongated proportions. Acute attention was given to details of clothing which denoted the social status of the subject. Henry's clothing in this portrait was commonly worn by Puritan girls and boys until they were seven years old. The cardinal perched on Henry's finger symbolized innocence. The strand of coral beads was commonly worn with the belief that it would protect the wearer from disease. An inscription at the top left of the painting reads, "AE 1 1/2 AD 1670" recording the age of Henry and the year in which the portrait was painted. "AE" is an abbreviation of the Latin "aetatis" (at the age of) and "AD" is an abbreviation of the Latin "Anno Domini" (in the year of our Lord).

This painting remained in the donor's family for three centuries. Henry Gibbs' daughter, Margaret, married Rev. Nathaniel Appleton. The painting remained with five generations of Appletons, a respected and historical Boston family. After the Civil War, John Appleton left Boston for West Virginia. Among the family possessions he brought to West Virginia were seven generations of family portraits. John Appleton's daughter, Ethelind Parker Appleton, married Alexander Quarrier Smith. Their daughter, Elsie Quarrier Smith, married David Giltinan, Sr. The three portraits of the Gibbs children remained in the family until 1994 when they were bequeathed to two museums. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston which already housed the portrait of Robert Gibbs, was given the portrait of Margaret Gibbs. This "Portrait of Henry Gibbs" was given to Sunrise Museum (now the Clay Center).