Folk Art

Antique American Memorial Watercolor of Young Woman Grieving for Lost Infant. Sailing Ship in Background
  • Very touching American watercolor memorial from Greenfield, Massachusetts or New York of a young mother grieving for her lost infant.  The piece is sensitively painted with the young woman resting her head upon her hand while her elbow rests on the child's gravestone.  Her large expressive eyes gaze directly at the viewer.  Her brown curled hair frames her beautiful face with arching eyebrows and angular facial features.  Seen far in the background (from under her resting arm) is a sailing ship.  Above the stone and under the weeping willow are distant mountains.  Her blue dress has long sleeves which are puffed at the shoulder, drawn tight by a ribbon at the top of the arm and then tight to the wrist which is finished with more ribbon and a ruffle.  Her small waist is accentuated by a brighter blue sash that has a gold foil buckle or brooch.  Her collar is white, turned down, edged with lace and enhanced by brown shading that makes the fabric appear lush and soft.  This stunning memorial  is painted in an oval portal which is edged with yellow watercolor with tiny circular painted decoration.  The corners of the painting are painted black spandrels.  What you cannot really see in the photos are that the corner floral decorations in the corners of spandrels, her long gold drop earring and her belt buckle are all done in gold leaf foil.

    The painting is signed "P.B. Wescott Greenfield / 1835".  The artist included a touching poem both on the stone and along the lower edge of the painting.  The stone reads:

    This infant babe in silence sleeps:
    While o're the tomb, its mother weeps,
    He saw this light, then closed his eyes
    And took his slight beyond the skies.

    The bottom inscription reads:

    Through darkening shades, thy early day o'erspread,
    And friends alas! are number with the dead;
    Yet ore, bespeaks, some brighter ray,
    For well thou know'st its darker e're 'tis day
    Then when thy path with cloudlefs light is blefs'd
    And thou by fortunes winning smiles carrefs's
    Thy joyous cup with blefsings running o'er
    "Forget not her who then may be no MORE"!!

    P.B. Wescott is listed in "Record of Primitive Painters", an appendix of Primitive Painters in America 1750-1950 An Anthology, by Jean Lipman and Alice Winchester, Dodd, Mead & Company, New York 1950 at 182.  Lipman & Winchester note that P.B. Wescott was from Greenfield, Mass, date given at 1835, subject Memorial, medium watercolor.  The same P.B. Wescott is also listed in Who Was Who in American Art, Peter Hastings Falk, editor, Sound View Press, Madison, CT 1999 at 674; Folk Artists Biographical Index, George H. Meyer, editor, Gale Research, Detroit 1987 at 283; The New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564-1860 Volume III, George C. Groce & David H. Wallace, Yale University Press, New Haven CT 1999 at 3520.  All sources refer back to Lipman & Winchester.  It appears that only one painting had been found with Wescott's signature (and the date of 1835) at the time of the Lipman & Winchester notation and I believe that this painting is the one listed and the only known painting by Wescott.

    I and my research buddy, Sue Anderson, spent quite a lot of time researching artist P.B. Wescott and have only found the references above to the listed artist.  While this painting is of the nature of a school girl painting, I believe it is too well done and the inscription is too personalized and sensitive for it to have been done as a school project.  P.B. Wescott may have been a school mistress of superior artistic skills and sensitivity or a professional artist.  From 1828 until 1845, Greenfield was the home of the Greenfield "High School for Young Ladies" run by Reverend Henry Jones with four women assistants.  Although I have not yet been able to find the names of the four female teachers beyond the year of 1829, there was no Miss Wescott among the faculty in 1829.  I will continue to search for later faculty names to see if Wescott is among them.  However, online vital records for Greenfield, MA do not show any Wescotts living in Greenfield, MA through 1850.

    We cannot know why Lipman & Winchester identified this painting as being from Greenfield, Mass instead of Greenfield, NY or Greenfield from another New England state.  Unfortunately, both Lipman and Winchester are deceased so it is impossible to ask them.  Perhaps the painting was found in Massachusetts and possibly still owned by descendents of the family for whom the mourning piece was painted.  However, my research buddy, Sue Anderson, found a Polly B. Westcott (note the additional "t" in the last name) in Greenfield, New York won several awards for her needlework (1844 New York State Fair, $2 for her Counterpane; 1847 New York State Fair $3 for two quilts, silk bead purse & other articles).  Beyond those two newspaper announcements, Polly B. is listed as Wescott (without the extra "t").  Mrs. Lewis (Polly B.) Westcott was born in 1783 in either Massachusetts or Connecticut and died in 1850 in Greenfield, NY.  She is buried at St. Johns Cemetery under a stone that shows the correct spelling of her name as "Wescott".  Ms. Anderson also tells me that Greenfield, NY is an offshoot of Saratoga in upstate New York and the town is little known except by people from that area (unknown even to other native New Yorkers).  Jean Lipman grew up in New York City and went to Wellesley College.  Without the aid of internet searches, Ms. Lipman may have known only of Greenfield, MA, which is a defining border town between New York state and Massachusetts.  It is possible that, upon seeing "Greenfield" as the artist's location, Ms. Lipman assumed it was Massachusetts.  Considering Polly B. Wescott's considerable needlework skills and the fact that young ladies in the early 19th century were taught painting and needlework as companion forms of art, it is our opinion that the artist P.B. Wescott is, indeed, Polly B. Wescott of Greenfield, New York.  Although I have not been able to find the genealogy history of Polly B. or her husband, Lewis Wescott, Greenfield was home in at least one other Wescott family during the early 19th century.  Reverend Edwin Wescott was one of the early pastors of the First Baptist Church of Greenfield.  Although Rev. Edwin had a grandson named "Lewis Wescott", he was not born until 1851.  According to Polly's gravestone, her husband, Lewis, was born in 1793.  Perhaps the Edwin's grandson was named after a cousin from the same town.

    This is a spectacular American piece of folk art, by a listed artist and probably the only known signed piece by this Massachusetts artist.  Beautiful, sensitive, touching, perfect for your collection.  Period black painted frame with nice cracquelere surface measures 14 1/2" x 11 3/4".  The sight size is 9 3/4" x 12 1/2".  Although the frame is period and perfectly sets off the watercolor, I don not believe it is original to the painting.  It is backed by a period backboard.  I have placed a thin sheet of 100% acid-free acetate between the paper and the wood backing.  This should provide a lifetime of archival protection from the back.  There is expected toning and a few slight stains to the painting.  As you can see in the images, there is a little loss of paint on the willow greenery.  All of these apologies are greatly enhanced by the camera (as usual).  If only I could get the camera to enhance the gold foil accents instead of hiding them!

    All research will be provided to the buyer.

    (#4956)     $4500

    References:

    Falk, Peter Hastings, ed., Who Was Who in American Art,  Sound View Press, Madison, CT 1999 at 674

    Groce, George C. & Wallace, David H., The New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564-1860 Volume III, Yale University Press, New Haven CT 1999 at 3520.

    Lipman, Jean and Winchester, Alice, Primitive Painters in America 1750-1950 An Anthology, Dodd, Mead & Company, New York 1950 at 182. 

    Meyer, George H., ed.,  Folk Artists Biographical Index, Gale Research, Detroit 1987 at 283