Lot 606
  • 606

Attributed to John Durand (fl. circa 1765-1782)

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • John Durand (fl. circa 1765-1782)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 29 5/16 by 24 5/16 in. each
  • C. 1768-1770


J. Crooks, Esq., The Hospital for Sick Children, London
Sotheby's London, Important 18th and 19th Century Paintings, March 18, 1970, lot 22
Pawsey & Payne, London
Florene Maine, Ridgefield, Connecticut, 1972


"Blue," New York, American Folk Art Museum, October 20, 2004-March 6, 2005


Fales, Martha Gandy. Jewelry in America, 1600-1900. Woodbridge, England: Antique Collectors' Club, 1995, p. 45, back cover (Woman only)
American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum, p. 23, figs. 1A-B


These portraits were last restored in the 1970s in London. The restoration is very diligent and competent. The canvases have been lined. These linings are non-acidic and have certainly stabilized and presented the surfaces of both pictures very well. As one would expect from pictures from this period, there has been some wear to the paint layer that has been addressed. The varnish is slightly yellowed and thus the palette of both pictures is somewhat warmer and more subdued than it would be if the pictures were cleaned. However, cleaning or other restoration is not necessarily recommended at this time since the retouching has been carefully and well applied. In the portrait of the male sitter, retouches have been applied to a vertical break in the canvas to the right of the vessel in the water on the right side. This break runs into the windowsill and the retouches can be seen under ultraviolet light. The level of the windowsill was changed by the artist, and the pentimenti that had begun to re-emerge were subdued with retouches. There are further retouches around the edges, in the sky and in isolated spots in the background. There are isolated retouches in the figure's torso and face and concentrated on the chin. The amount of restoration seen under ultraviolet light is not discouraging nor is it an indication of a condition issue. In the portrait of the young woman, the lining and competence of retouching is the same. There is less retouching in this picture than the other. In the center of the sky on the right side, there is one area which may not show strongly under ultraviolet light, which seems to correspond to retouching. There is very little retouching throughout the rest of the picture. One loss on the edge of the lace bodice has been retouched. There are also isolated retouches in the face, the side of the nose, the chin and above the lip on the right side. There are a few other isolated retouches in the background and a possible break in the upper left comer. This picture appears very well preserved when viewed under ultraviolet light as well as to the naked eye. Obviously, for an important pair of pictures like this, the conservation and condition is a serious issue and in an ideal world one would clean and restore the pictures afresh. The varnish is slightly "sprayed" feeling and although the retouches are beautifully applied, they may be overzealous. These are the sort of pictures that can tolerate being slightly less restored than perhaps a portrait from this period of a more polished technique. Condition Report by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

John Durand remains a mysterious character in the annals of American art history, though he was a preeminent painter of wealthy New York families during the second half of the 18th century. Durand's career can be traced from Virginia to New York, Connecticut, and even Bermuda, but the trail ends in 1782, when his name appeared on a tax list for Dinwiddie County in Virginia.1 Durand is first documented in Virginia, in 1765, but was painting in New York City the following year, when he portrayed James Beekman's six children. His name appears in Beekman's account book as "Monsieur Duran," a notation that has led to conjecture that the artist was of French heritage. In 1768 he portrayed merchant Garret Rapalje and his family. The painting of the four Rapalje children is the artist's only known group portrait and endures as one of his most successful works.2 In April of the same year, Durand advertised in the New-York Gazette, or, The Weekly Post-Boy that he had "from infancy endeavored to qualify himself in the Art of historical Painting."3 Like other artists of the period, including those with some European training, Durand aspired to this genre, which, regardless of the importance given to it by artists, had difficulty finding patronage in colonial America. As no paintings of historical subjects by Durand are known, he appears to have been unsuccessful in this ambition.

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