Collections › MESDA Collection › Captain Albert Roux and his Mother

Captain Albert Roux and his Mother

Artist/Maker:
Benbridge, Henry
Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
1780-1790
Medium:
oil on canvas
Dimensions:
HOA: 44 3/16; WOA: 34 1/8
Accession Number:
3263
Description:
SITTERS: Known to the previous owners as Roux family ancestors, the sitters are believed to represent Captain Albert Roux (1755-1791) of Georgetown and possibly his mother, Marie Mandrot Roux (1732-1819), of Morges, Switzerland. Alternatively, the older woman might represent his mother-in-law, Elizabeth (Trapier) Foissin.

Captain Albert Roux was a Revolutionary War officer and Georgetown merchant. Born near Bern, Switzerland, he came to South Carolina with his father, Jean Daniel Roux (1720-1773), in 1772. His father died the next year, leaving Albert and his younger brother Lewis in the care of wealthy Charleston merchant, political leader, and fellow Huguenot, Henry Laurens (1724-1792). Albert’s mother, Marie Mandrot Roux, lived and died in Switzerland. She and her family are mentioned in several Henry Laurens letters in the 1770s and 80s. Based on her possible appearance in the portrait, she may have visited South Carolina at least once.

During the Revolutionary War, Albert Roux served as a lieutenant, then captain in the 2nd South Carolina Regiment under General Francis Marion (1732-1795). He married into the Huguenot merchant-planter aristocracy in 1784 when he wed the young Mrs. Elizabeth (Foissin) Trapier, the widow of Paul Trapier, Jr., a wealthy Georgetown merchant and her first cousin. Albert partnered with his younger brothers Lewis and Francis in the Georgetown mercantile firm, Albert Roux and Company. In the 1790 census, Albert is listed as living in All Saint’s Parish, Georgetown, with his wife, brother Francis, and 28 slaves. He owned Serenity Planation on the Sampit River, located immediately outside of Georgetown. The next year, in 1791 Captain Albert Roux died in Columbia, South Carolina, leaving no children.

Lewis and Francis Roux subsequently moved to Charleston to continue their careers as merchants. Lewis married Mrs. Ann Buckle and had several children. He was elected to the City Council and served as secretary-treasurer of the French Huguenot Church. Francis’s 1815 will refers to a silver-mounted, double-barreled gun that might be the firearm depicted in the portrait, and to a seal “bearing my coat of arms” that might be the seal seen hanging from the man’s waist.

A successful officer, planter and merchant, Albert Roux was typical of Benbridge’s early South Carolina sitters.

ARTIST: Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) was born in Philadelphia. His parents were James and Mary (Clark) Benbridge. Widowed, the artist’s mother married Scottish merchant in about 1750. Benbridge received a classical education at the Academy of Philadelphia. He showed a natural talent for painting and was encouraged by his stepfather. He may have received training from John Wollaston (1710-1775), who painted Gordon’s portrait. He may have also studied with Matthew Pratt (1734-1805) in Philadelphia. One of his most accomplished early works is a family portrait now in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA acc. 1987.8)

At age 21 Benbridge set sail for Europe where he studied in Rome under Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787) and Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779) and in London under fellow-Pennsylvanian Benjamin West (1738-1820). It is possible that Benbridge is among those portrayed in West’s studio in Matthew Pratt’s “The American School in London” in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA acc. 97.29.3) In 1769 Benbridge exhibited at the London Free Society of Artists and in 1770 he works were hung in the Royal Academy Exhibition. In London, Benjamin Franklin sat for a portrait by Benbridge.

Returning to Philadelphia in 1770, he was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1771. At this time he probably met his wife-to-be, Esther “Hetty” Sage (d.1776), a portrait miniaturist who had had some instruction from Charles Wilson Peale. By May 1772 the two were married. Henry moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and his wife, mother-in-law and young son joined him the next year. Portraits of the Bulloch, Tannatt, and Wylly familes of Savannah suggest that the family also spent time in Savannah during the early 1770s. Hetty died about 1776.

Along with other American sympathizers, Henry Benbridge was exiled on the Prison Ship Torbay in 1781, but was released by late 1782, when he was again in Philadelphia. While there, he did several conversational portraits of his family and others, but returned to Charleston by 1784. References to Benbridge in Charleston after this date are numerous. Later, Benbridge moved to Norfolk where his son lived. At this time he was in poor health, but continued to paint, attributing his strength to “Balsmic Cough Elixir”. While in Norfolk, Benbridge painted a portrait of Thomas Sully, who noted that the artist was held in high esteem in that city. Only two paintings are known to survive from Benbridge’s Norfolk period, both in MESDA’s collection: a group portrait of the Taylor family (acc. 2938) and a group portrait of the Lamb family (acc. 2943). Benbridge died in 1812 and was buried in Philadelphia.

RELATED OBJECTS: MESDA owns numerous portraits by Henry Benbridge. These include a posthumous portrait of Charles Pinckney (acc. 1140.1); a portrait of Rachel (Moore Allston (2023.11); a portrait of Captain Albert Roux and his mother (acc. 3263); group portrait of the Taylor family (acc. 2938) and a group portrait of the Lamb family (acc. 2943). MESDA also owns a portrait miniature of Lady Ann (Moodie) Houston attributed to Hetty Benbridge (acc. 3352.2).

DESCRIPTION: Oil on canvas in which an older woman is seated and a younger man stands to her left. He holds a silver-mounted rifle, stock down, in his left hand. With his right hand, he offers her a dead game bird. The man wears a black coat and hat, a white shirt, white vest, white breeches, and black and tan leather boots. The woman wears a burgundy silk dress with white lace-trimmed sleeves, a white kerchief and white cap ornamented by a pink bow at the top. The two are in an architectural setting with a landscape garden and trees in the background to the left. Behind them is a wall with a sweeping dark-fringed green curtain. The woman rests her right arm on a low wall.

History:
Painted by Henry Benbridge for Albert Roux; to his brother Lewis Roux; then to Lewis’s granddaughter, Florida Roux Dawson (1840-1916), and to her grandson, Thomas Herbert Dawson, of Orangeburgh, South Carolina.
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas S. Douglas III