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Charles Pinckney

Benbridge, Henry
Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
oil on canvas
HOA: 30; WOA: 25
Accession Number:
SITTER: Charles Pinckney (1699-1758), like so many Charlestonians of wealth, was educated in England, read law and returned to South Carolina where he served as speaker of the Commons House of Assembly. He was commissioned by Governor Robert Johnson as Advocate-General in the court of Vice-Admiralty in 1732. Governor Glen appointed Pinckney as Chief Justice in 1752, an office in which he served well for six months after which he was superseded by Mr. Leigh who arrived in Charles Town with a commission for the office from the Crown. Pinckney first married Elizabeth Lamb (d.1744). Upon her death, he married Elizabeth (Eliza) Lucas (1722-1793).

Eliza is well-known for her agricultural experiments, particularly her successful cultivation of indigo and silk. Three surviving children from the second marriage were Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746-1825), Thomas Pinckney (1750-1828), and Harriott Pinckney (1748-1830). Harriott married Daniel Horry, rice planter of Hampton Plantation. Pinckney sailed with his wife and children to London in April of 1753 to enter his sons in school. Several interesting references to Pinckney are to be found in Peter Manigault’s letters to his mother, including references to Pinckney’s dislike of England and his reluctance to play Whist for money. Pinckney, Eliza, and Harriott returned to South Carolina in May 1758. He contracted a fever shortly thereafter and was dead by July. He was buried in St. Philip’s churchyard.

This is a posthumous portrait of Charles Pinckney (1699-1758). It is based upon an earlier portrait by an unknown artist now in the collection of the Gibbes Museum of Art (Gibbes acc. 2006.002). The dimensions of this portrait match Benbridge’s two portraits of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746-1825) and his wife, Sarah (Middleton) Pinckney (1756-1784), suggesting that the three paintings were part of a singular commission. Benbridge chose to alter Pinckney’s dress from the earlier portrait in an effort to bring it up to date and into harmony with the portraits of Charles and Sarah. The portrait of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG.67.1); the portrait of Sarah (Middleton) Pinckney (Gibbes acc. 1990.018).

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.

COSTUME: The loose robe worn by Pinckney is called a banyan and the turban in this portrait presents the gentleman in an informal dress working on his law papers.

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).

COSTUME: The loose robe worn by Pinckney is called a banyan and the turban in this portrait presents the gentleman in an informal dress working on his law papers.

FRAME: The painting is housed in its original gilt frame.

DESCRIPTION: Oil on canvas, portrait of man with dark eyes, dark complexion, shaven head, facing half-right with hands folded over table corner in lower right, the right hand with quill pen, the left holding a document with a name written thereon. He wears a white loose collar shirt with deep red robe and turban of the same red material, and sits in a red-brown upholstered-back chair with brass tacks. The background is a dark green drapery to the left and books on the right.

Credit Line:
Purchase Fund