Collections › MESDA Collection › Edward Rutledge Laurens

Edward Rutledge Laurens

Fraser, Charles
Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
watercolor on ivory
HOA: 4 1/8″
LOA; 3 1/2″
Accession Number:
SITTER: Edward Rutledge Laurens (b. 1806) was the son of Henry Laurens Jr. (1763-1821) and Eliza Rutledge (1776-1845) and the grandson of Henry Laurens (1723-1792) – President of the Second Continental Congress – and John Rutledge (1739-1800) – the second Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Edward Rutledge Laurens married Margaret Horry in February 1827. They had three children: Henry Laurens, John Laurens, and Eliza Rutledge Laurens (1827-1890). The reverse of his miniature is inscribed: “painted by Ch Fraser / Oct 1823 / Charleston SC.” The occasion for which this miniature was painted is unknown.

In 1857 friends organized a retrospective of Charles Fraser’s work. The exhibit consisted of 313 miniatures, 139 oil paintings, and numerous sketches. The catalog of that exhibition noted that:

It is the grateful privilege he (Fraser) had enjoyed to live immediately after the stirring period of the revolution, and to see and associate with our fathers of that day that made our glorious history – and to be blessed with the opportunity of recording for posterity the lineaments of Rutledge and Laurens, of Moultrie and Pinckney…

In 1830 Fraser painted both “Mrs. Edward Laurens” and “Mr. Ed Laurens” for a total of $90. Perhaps the birth of their own children—and the loss of his brother and his brother’s wife—inspired Edward to update his portrait and add that of his wife to family’s growing collection of miniatures. The following year Fraser noted in his account book that “out of 198 sitters from Jany 1 1819 / 26 are dead. This 1 Apl 1831.” Charles Fraser himself wrote that wrote that miniatures were “striking resemblances, that will never fail to perpetuate the tenderness of friendship, to divert the cares of absence, and to aid affection in dwelling on those features and that image which death has forever wrestled from us.”

ARTIST: Charles Fraser (1782-1860) was born in Charleston, South Carolina. He was the fourteenth and last child born to Alexander Fraser and Mary (Grimke) Fraser. At the age of sixteen he followed his family’s wishes and began the study of law. By 1804 he was working in the office of the Attorney-General of South Carolina and in 1807, he was admitted to the bar.

Though Fraser practiced law during his early adulthood, his passion was art. He demonstrated his artistic aptitude at an early age; extant sketchbooks date as early as 1796, when Fraser was only fourteen. He established lifelong friendships with artists such as Thomas Sully (1783-1872), Edward Greene Malbone (1777-1807), and Washington Allston (1779-1843). Unlike many of his contemporaries, Fraser was not an itinerant artist, though he did make five trips to the northern states where he visited the studios of other artists. He Charleston he worked to promote public art exhibitions and collections in Charleston and was a director of the South Carolina Academy of Fine Arts until its closure circa 1832.

Fraser exhibited widely during his lifetime. His work was shown in Philadelphia and New York as well as Charleston. His most important exhibit was the 1857 “Fraser Gallery” exhibit organized in his honor by a group of prominent citizens in Charleston. Over three hundred of his works were included in this exhibit. According to the catalog of the exhibition, his Still Life with Duck and Partridges (acc. 5470) was the last work he painted.

RELATED WORKS: The MESDA Collection includes miniatures of brothers John Ball Laurens (1799-1827) (MESDA acc. 5543.1) and Edward Rutledge Laurens (b.1806) (MESDA acc. 5543.2). It is unsurprising that the miniatures of the two brothers, painted two years apart, descended in the Laurens family as a pair. Following the death of their parents the orphaned Laurens children may have entered the household of their uncle Edward Rutledge Laurens and aunt Margaret Horry Laurens. There John Ball Laurens Jr. would have been raised with – and had adequate opportunity to get to know – his cousin and future wife Eliza Rutledge Laurens.

This interconnectedness of families and artistic patronage is not surprising among Fraser’s work. In the 1857 retrospective of his work more than 300 of his miniatures were exhibited in family groups. A reviewer wrote “the dead and living were thus reunited again by the magic of Art.”

Descended in the family of Edward Rutledge Laurens.
Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund