Durand's style was changeable throughout his career. The portraits relied on a sensitive color sense and linear treatment for facial modeling and decorative appeal. The palette ranged from earth tones to rococo pinks and blues. The Virginia portraits, in particular, appear "dry and hard," as his nephew Robert Sully characterized them, when compared to the more naturalistic and decorative New York portraits.4 Despite the changes in palette, there are certain consistent conventions in Durand's portraits. These include a flower upheld in one hand of female sitters, often near the bosom; flowers turned on their stems to reveal star-shaped leaves; and a particular display of fingers, often with one or two lifted and separated from the rest.
These portraits are purported to depict Captain and Mrs. Fitzhugh Greene of Newport, Rhode Island.5 Mrs. Greene's aristocratic bearing, rich jewels, and beautiful, flowered blue silk dress support the ownership of the merchant vessel implied in her husband's portrait. 6 In each portrait, the subject is set against a plain wall, and window cutouts appear at the far right. His offers a seascape with his ship in the background, while hers affords a glimpse of a verdant landscape. They share a quiet self-containment and a freshness of face. But unlike Captain Greene's minimal composition painted in earth tones, Mrs. Greene's portrait is adorned with a draped curtain in a rose color with gold cording, fringe, and tassel. The lusciousness of her jewels is matched by the profusion of flowers on her bodice and headdress and the blush blooming in her cheeks; in one hand she holds a rose in full flower. When juxtaposed to the drab coloring of her husband's portrait, Mrs. Greene can clearly be perceived as his adornment, a fertile beauty in the flush of womanhood. -S.C.H.
1 Biographical information based on Franklin W. Kelly, "The Portraits of John Durand," The Magazine Antiques 122, no. 5 (November 1982): 1080-87.
2 Collection New-York Historical Society; see ibid., p. 1081.
3 Rita S. Gottesman, comp., The Arts and Crafts in New York, 1726-1776: Advertisements and News Items from New York City Newspapers (New York: New-York Historical Society, 1938), pp. 1-2.
4 Kelly, "Portraits of John Durand," p. 1084.
5 Former owner Florene Maine provided this identification but without documentation. The paintings were sold by Sotheby's in London (March 1970) as an anonymous pair of American portraits. No other works by Durand are known to have been painted in Rhode Island.
6 In New Haven about 1770, Durand painted another pair of portraits that feature a ship in the background-an unusual element in his work. The portraits of Colonel William Douglas and his wife, Hannah Mansfield Douglas, are illustrated in "Queries," The Magazine Antiques 102, no. 6 (December 1972): 1024.
The present pair of portraits relate in composition and details of costume and jewellry with the portrait of Lucy Skelton Gilliam, 1780, now in the Collection of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia. Illustrated and discussed in Carolyn J. Weekley, Painters and Paintings in the Early American South, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Yale University Press, 2013, p. 289, fig. 6.11
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