Anonymous Artist, American
Portrait of a Boy with Top Hat
North America, American
35 1/4 in. x 28 1/2 in. (89.54 cm x 72.39 cm)
Medium and Support:
Oil on canvas
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts Association Purchase
The identity of the subject of this painting, as well as the painter, are unknown, but the date of the work can be set at about 1850 because of a canvas supplier stamp on the back of the canvas. This date is supported by the style of the child's clothing, as well as the styling of his hair.
This young boy must have belonged to a prosperous family. After the invention of photography in 1839, that art form quickly became popular for capturing likenesses of family members. It was much cheaper and quicker than portrait painting, but the early photographic images were quite small. This large portrait and its simple, bold, period gold frame were likely intended for a prominent spot in an impressive residence. There is nothing to suggest that it is a mourning portrait of a deceased child, but certainly it could be just that. Still, the artist captured a sense of the child’s innocent, bright-eyed personality and that would have been more difficult to accomplish from a photograph, and it is more likely that the picture was painted from life.