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Rachel (Moore) Allston

Benbridge, Henry
Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
oil on canvas
HOA: 28; WOA: 24 7/8
Accession Number:
SITTER: Rachel (Moore) Allston (1757-1839) was the daughter of John (1726-1788) and Elizabeth (Vanderhorst) Moore, and the granddaughter of John Moore (d. 1736) and Rachel Villepontoux, her namesake. Rachel Moore was born on August 10, 1757 and died in Charleston on December 27, 1839. On January 19, 1775 she married William Allston (1738-1781) of Brookgreen Plantation on the Waccamaw River, near Georgetown. The couple had three children, the most famous of whom was the artist Washington Allston (1779-1843), a pioneer of the American romantic movement.

William Allston died in 1781 and on December 5, 1784 Rachel remarried, this time to Dr. Henry Collins Flagg (b.1742), the son of Gershon Flagg and Mary Ward of Rhode Island. Flagg had served as Surgeon General of the Continental Army; he was an eminent physician and a member of the Society of Cincinnati. Rachel’s family apparently disapproved of her second marriage. In reply, she stated that she had married the first time to please her family, the second to please herself.

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 a painting by her son Washington Allston, “Rocky Coast with Banditti” (acc. 2098), and a miniature by her daughter Mary (Allston) Young Alston (acc. 3620). 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: Oil on canvas portrait of woman. Subject faces half-right, with dark hair combed upward to expose left ear, pearls in hair which hangs down over her right shoulder. She wears a blue silk cross-bodice dress with pinned-up sleeves revealing a light under-garment, and tied with a brown sash, her left arm upon a table, the right at her hip, foliage in background.

Credit Line:
Anonymous Gift