Hepzibah Swan was the daughter of Colonel James Swan [27.538] and Hepzibah Clarke Swan [27.539]. Colonel Swan was a member of the Sons of Liberty, a secret organization formed to protest English tax policies; he fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill; and he made and lost several fortunes through...
Hepzibah Swan was the daughter of Colonel James Swan [27.538] and Hepzibah Clarke Swan [27.539]. Colonel Swan was a member of the Sons of Liberty, a secret organization formed to protest English tax policies; he fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill; and he made and lost several fortunes through land speculation and international commerce. Hepzibah Clarke Swan was a charismatic heiress, patroness of the arts, and, like her husband, a Francophile. Although her parents were estranged and lived apart for much of their marriage—Colonel Swan spent the last twenty-two years of his life in a French debtors’ prison—Hepzibah Swan grew up in a prosperous Boston household, ably run by her mother, filled with high-style French furnishings and frequented by such political and social leaders as Generals Henry Knox and Henry Jackson, the Perez Mortons, the Harrison Gray Otises, and the Isaac Winslows [39.250]. In 1800, Hepzibah Swan married a Boston physician, John Clarke Howard [21.2553a-b], in a lavish wedding.Dr. Howard was born in 1772, the oldest son of the Reverend Simeon Howard, the third minister of the West Church of Boston, and Elizabeth Clarke Mayhew Howard. He graduated from Harvard College in 1790. Dr. Howard was one of the founders of the Medical Improvement Society in 1803 and the Boston Medical Library in 1805, serving as one of its first trustees. Hepzibah Clarke Swan—or Madame Swan, as she was known in Boston—was one of Gilbert Stuart’s major patrons, responsible for at least nine commissions, including this one of her daughter. She had sought out Stuart to paint her husband in about 1795, herself in about 1806, and General Henry Knox [L-R 30.76b] and General Henry Jackson (private collection), both close friends. In 1808 Stuart painted three of Madame Swan’s four children: James Keadie Swan (Montpelier Memorial, Thomaston, Maine), Mrs. William Sullivan (Sarah Webb Swan) (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut), and Hepzibah Swan Howard. When she sat for Stuart in 1808, Hepzibah Howard was accompanied by her mother. Entries on the one extant page of Stuart’s sitting book describe the event: “Rubbed in Mrs Howard’s . . . background” on April 25, 1808, and “Mrs. Swan and Mrs. Howard” on April 29, 1808.  Stuart painted Hepzibah Swan Howard’s bust-length likeness on a scored panel. He often used such supports, in part because of the difficulty he experienced obtaining canvas from Britain, due to various non-importation acts passed by Congress before and during the War of 1812. The scoring of the panels simulated the texture of the twill-weave canvases the artist preferred. Stuart, known for his uncanny ability to capture the likenesses of his sitters, shows Mrs. Howard as a lovely young woman with a slight smile. Mrs. Howard’s hair is pulled back in a chignon with loose ringlets framing her face, a style popular at the time. Her high-waisted white dress with a low-cut bodice reflected French fashion then favored in America. A bright red shawl adorns her shoulders. The rest of the portrait was of less interest to Stuart, and he summarily painted a dark red drape behind Mrs. Howard to serve as a background, setting off her features. Stuart must have been pleased with the effect of the white dress and red shawl, for he used this combination on several occasions for portraits of Boston women, including Margaret Crease Stackpole Welch (about 1815, Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts) and Nancy Davis Stackpole Holker (location unknown). He also found that the bust-length portrait suited his Boston sitters’ taste and pocketbook. From time to time he varied the format by adding a grand-manner touch, such as the background drapery in Mrs. Howard’s portrait. Hepzibah Howard later commissioned Stuart to paint a posthumous likeness of her husband, Dr. John C. Howard (Boston Medical Library), after his death in 1810 at the age of thirty-seven. This likeness may have been based on the two-sided miniature by an unidentified artist of Dr. and Mrs. John Clarke Howard [21.2553a-b] now in the MFA’s collection. After Mrs. Howard’s death in 1833, her portrait descended to her daughter and then to her granddaughter, who gave it to the MFA in 1927 as part of the Swan Collection [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?credit_line=Swan%20Collection]. This distinguished collection included three Stuart portraits, gilded French furniture, high-style tableware, and other fine furnishings. Notes 1. See Eleanor Pearson DeLorme, “The Swan Commissions: Four Portraits by Gilbert Stuart,”Winterthur Portfolio14, no. 4 (Winter 1979): 375. 2. See Mabel M. Swan, “Paging Gilbert Stuart in Boston,” Magazine Antiques, December 1938, 308. Janet L. Comey
1808, the sitter, Hepzibah Swan (Mrs. John Clarke) Howard (1777-1833); 1833, by descent to the sitter's daughter, Elizabeth Howard (Mrs. Cyrus A.) Bartol (born 1803), Boston; by 1895, by descent to her daughter, Elizabeth H. Bartol (1842-1927), Boston; 1927, bequest of Elizabeth Howard Bartol to the MFA as part of the Swan Collection. (Accession Date: September 8, 1927)
Swan Collection. Bequest of Miss Elizabeth Howard Bartol