Henry Peterson Van Bibber
ARTIST: This portrait descended alongside works attributed to Felix Sharples (1786-after 1830), but it seems to be clearly by a different hand. Felix Sharples advertised his services as a drawing master in the Norfolk newspapers, and the present image may be the work of his student, Hester Eliiza Henrietta (Van Bibber) Tabb (1800-1823), in whose family it descended.
Hester was descended from one of the early Dutch families that settled at Bohemia Manor in Cecil County, Maryland. Her parents, Andrew (1768-1808) and Sarah Emory Van Bibber (1769-1836), lived at North End Plantation in Matthews County, Virginia. On July 2, 1821, Hester married Henry Wythe Tabb (1791-1864) of Toddsbury Plantation in neighboring Gloucester County. Hester died after childbirth at a young age in 1823. The couple had lived with her family at North End, but after Hester’s death Henry Wythe Tabb remarried and moved to nearby Auburn Plantation.
Felix Thomas Sharples came from a family of pastel artists. He, his parents, a half-sister and a half-brother were all proficient in the medium; however, unlike the rest of his family, Felix tended to depict his subjects in a three-quarter or nearly full view. Together, the family traveled from England in 1793, seeking commissions for pastel portraits in New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, before returning to England in 1801. Five years later Felix and his half-brother James returned to America, working in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. They advertised that they worked oil and miniature portraits as well as pastel. The rest of the family came to America in 1809, but apparently remained in New York. Felix’s last known work was done in Mathews and Gloucester Counties, Virginia. Sometime after 1830, he died and was buried at Isleham, the Yeatman family plantation located across the North River from Toddsbury, in Matthews County.
SITTER: This pastel portrait depicts a young man with light brown hair, possibly the artist’s brother, Henry Peterson Van Bibber (1800-1862). A second portrait of a similar man with light brown hair in three-quarter view, labeled “Mr. Van Bibber,” descended in another branch of the Henry Wythe Tabb family.
RELATED OBJECTS: This portrait is one of five Tabb family portraits acquired from the Bland Gallery in New York. (MESDA acc. 2024.146-150). A large number of portraits and sketches by Sharples and Van Bibber descended in the Booth and Tabb families of Mary Mason (Wythe) Booth Tabb (1751-1814).