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Francis Stubbs Taylor and Family

Benbridge, Henry
Place Made:
Norfolk Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
oil on canvas
HOA: 29 7/8; WOA: 24 3/4
Accession Number:
SITTERS: One of just two known surviving works by Henry Benbridge during his Norfolk, Virginia, period, this portrait shows Francis Stubbs Taylor (b. 1774), his wife Ann Fox (Lindsay) Stubbs, and their eldest two daughters, Sarah and Ann. As a young man, Francis Taylor served as deputy customs collector for the ports of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia. In 1797, he married Ann Fox Lindsay,the eldest daughter of customs collector William Lindsay (d. 1797). Despite close family connections to James Madison, Taylor failed to secure a presidential appointment to his father-in-law’s position. Francis and Ann Taylor’s children included a son William Taylor and daughters Sarah (Taylor) Carmichael, Ann Taylor, Emily (Taylor) Handy, and Mattie (Taylor) Burk. In 1824, Francis Stubbs Taylor married for a second time Miss Jane E.C. Hackley of Norfolk. 1830, Francis S. Taylor, his family and eighteen slaves were listed in the U.S. census for Norfolk, Virginia.

ATTRIBUTION: This work has been attributed to Henry Benbridge based on the classical setting, subjects’ poses and slightly disproportionate figures.

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: Painting, oil on canvas, this is a group portrait of two adults and two children seated outdoors.

Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James W. Douglas