William Morris Hunt was mid-nineteenth century Boston's leading painter, highly admired for his work, his teaching, and the astute advice about purchases he gave to the city's collectors. He was born in Vermont, attended Harvard University, and joined his family on an extended trip to Europe in...
William Morris Hunt was mid-nineteenth century Boston's leading painter, highly admired for his work, his teaching, and the astute advice about purchases he gave to the city's collectors. He was born in Vermont, attended Harvard University, and joined his family on an extended trip to Europe in 1843. Cosmopolitan by nature, Hunt traveled for a number of years, studying art in Italy, Germany, and France. He worked with the French Realist painter Thomas Couture, whom he especially admired for his method of painting directly on canvas, without careful preparations in pencil. Hunt brought that spontaneity to his own art, preferring to capture nuances of light and atmosphere without finicky detail. He exhibited at the Paris Salon in the 1850s and became a close friend of the leading painter of the French Barbizon School, Jean-François Millet, who made heroic images of peasant life. The two artists worked together, and when Hunt returned to the United States in 1855 he encouraged Bostonians to buy Millet's work. He also reinterpreted Millet's rural subjects with an American vocabulary, using the rustic landscapes of Newport and Gloucester as Millet had employed the fields of Barbizon. Hunt also brought French sophistication to his many images of well-to-do Bostonians. Portraiture remained an important source of income for most American painters after the Civil War, and portraits by well-known artists continued to serve as status symbols in American society. Olivia Lothrop was in her twenties when she sat for this painting. The daughter of Samuel Kirkland Lothrop, Unitarian minister of the Brattle Street Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his first wife Mary Lyman Buckminster Lothrop, Olivia was raised in an intellectual and spiritual household. In 1870 she married Lewis W. Tappan, a Harvard graduate and grandson of the famous abolitionist. Tappan, who had served as U.S. consul to Java during the 1860s, was a businessman and philanthropist with an estate in Milton, Massachusetts; the couple had three children but lost two of them before Olivia herself died in 1878 at the age of thirty-seven. For her portrait, Lothrop stood demurely before a neutral background in a stylish copper silk dress. The dark setting and subtle colors help to focus attention on the sitter and are typical of Hunt's sophisticated approach to portraiture. He selected an elegant stance for his model, turning her to the side to feature the elegant contour of her corseted waist and full skirt. Such poses were popular with aristocratic sitters in European capitals following the example of Franz-Xavier Winterhalter, court painter of the French Second Empire. In Hunt's portrait Lothrop turns her head to face the viewer, and her serious expression, combined with her golden tiara, give the effect of royalty. This text was adapted from Davis, et al., MFA Highlights: American Painting (Boston, 2003) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
The artist; Lothrop family; descended to Olivia Buckminster Tappan (Mrs. Ellerton) James, daughter of the sitter; to MFA, 1927, gift of Mrs. Ellerton James.
Gift of Mrs. Ellerton James