These portraits are part of a significant group painted by Trott and Lovett in the Amelia-Nottoway County area of Virginia in the spring of 1793. The group includes members of the Cocke, Fitzgerald, Irby and Meade families. Several of them are signed and dated April and May 1793.
There are two portraits of James Henderson that are known: one owned by MESDA and another, almost identical version in a Kentucky private collection. The Kentucky portrait was attributed in 1956 to Charles Willson Peale and being of Major Thomas Henderson (1789-1843) of Alexandria, Virginia, but better information on the Trott and Lovett group has led to a revised attribution. It is believed now to depict this James Henderson (1738-1817) of Nottoway County.
Dying without children, James named as principal heir to his considerable estate his godson and namesake, James Henderson Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was a nephew and first cousin to many of the known Trott and Lovett sitters. Interestingly, Henderson bequeathed money to another namesake, James Henderson Cowper (or Cooper), the son of his nephew, Murdoch Cowper (or Cooper) of Kentucky. This connection may explain the existence of the second Kentucky portrait.
ARTIST: Benjamin Trott (1770-1843) was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Though nothing is known of his training, his earliest works date to about 1791. In 1793 he accompanied fellow Boston artist William Lovett (1773-1801) on a trip south. In April and May 1793 the pair collaborated on a series of portraits of prominent Nottoway County, Virginia, families. Trott is best known as a portrait miniaturist. This makes the surviving Nottoway County, Virginia, commissions somewhat unique in his oeuvre. Other surviving paintings from this brief Virginia period include ten portraits of the Cocke family in the collection of the Virginia Historical Society (VHS 1994.76.1-10)
Following his southern trip Trott established himself in New York. He befriended Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), recently arrived from Dublin, and copied many of Stuart’s commissions in miniature. When Stuart left for Philadelphia in 1794 Trott followed. Though Trott traveled extensively in search of commissions. At various times Trott worked in New York City, Albany, Kentucky, Norfolk, Charleston, Baltimore, and Washington. None the less, Philadelphia remained the center of his activity for almost thirty years; at one point Trott lived with Thomas Sully (1783-1872) and his family.
In Philadelphia Trott exhibited annually from 1811 to 1814 with the Society of Artists and also assisted in teaching the Society’s drawings classes. In 1812 a critic commended Trott’s miniatures as exhibiting “all the force and effort of the best oil painting…”
ARTIST: William Lovett (1773-1801) was born in Boston, Massachusetts. As a young man he befriended fellow Boston artist Benjamin Trott (1770-1843). The pair journeyed south in 1793 and in May and June of that year collaborated with Trott on painted a series of surviving portraits in Nottoway County, Virginia. Lovett, like Trott, is best known as a portrait miniaturist. This makes the surviving Nottoway County, Virginia, commissions somewhat unique in his oeuvre. Other surviving paintings from this brief Virginia period include ten portraits of the Cocke family in the collection of the Virginia Historical Society (VHS 1994.76.1-10) Lovett’s premature death at age 28 cut short a promising artistic career.
RELATED WORKS: The MESDA collection is home to a pair of Nottoway County, Virginia, portraits by Trott and Lovett: James Henderson and Mary (Booker) Henderson (MESDA acc. 5089.1-2).