Collections › MESDA Collection › Robert Hanson Harrison

Robert Hanson Harrison

Artist/Maker:
Henri, Pierre __Attributed to
Place Made:
Alexandria Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
1788-1790
Medium:
watercolor –ivory –copper –hair
Dimensions:
HOA 3; WOA 2 1/8
Accession Number:
4468.1
Description:
SITTER: Robert Hanson Harrison (1745-1790) was born in Walnut Landing on the Potomac River, in Maryland. Research by Robert Leath shows that he was born to a prominent planter family in Charles County. He became a lawyer practicing in Alexandria, Virginia, and a close friend to George Washington. During the Revolution, he served as Washington’s secretary and is depicted two people to the left of Washington on horseback in John Trumbull’s “Surrender of the Hessians at Trenton” in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery. (YUAG acc. 1832.5)

Hanson was married to Sarah Ann Johnston. After the Revolution, he was appointed Chief Justice of Maryland, and Washington appointed him one of the original Justices for the U.S. Supreme Court. He declined the appointment due to poor health and died on April 2, 1790. This this miniature must have been done very shortly after Henri’s arrival in the United States.

ARTIST: Peter (Pierre) Henri (1760-1822) was born in Paris, the son of Pierre and Henriette Henri. He left France with his uncle and, following a shipwreck, settled on the island of Hispaniola. At his uncle’s death in 1788 he went to New York, where he advertised as “A Miniature Painter Lately Arrived from France…[who] draws Likenesses… at the lowest price, and engages the painting to be equal to any in Europe” (New York Daily Advertiser, 3 May, 1788). A year later he was in Philadelphia, willing to paint miniatures for “Four Pounds, which is about the sixth part of the price that I was generally paid before an extraordinary misfortune I experienced a few months ago.” (Pennsylvania Packet, 23 January 1789)

In Philadelphia he married Elizabeth Osborne, the daughter of Captain Peter Osborne. Following his marriage, he continued to work as an itinerant artist, traveling to Alexandria and Richmond, Virginia, Baltimore, Maryland, Charleston, South Carolina, and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Peter Henri’s work contains a number of recognizable characteristics. For example, he tended to give his subjects overly large heads with strongly delineated large round eyes and curling mouth. The skin tones are pale, backgrounds are neutral shades. The hair and background are executed with a short, regular hatch which is often decorative in effect. The subject is placed high in the picture and the initials “PH” and date are placed in the lower right corner.

Henri’s best known work is a portrait of the artist’s family in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA 2000.25).

DESCRIPTION: Miniature watercolor on ivory; oval copper frame with stick-pin on the back and loop at the top – can be worn as a pin or necklace; small circle of glass on the back with plaited hair inside; gray haired man wearing a dark suit and white cravat; ivory is split.

Credit Line:
Gift of Sandra Strother Hudson in memory of Marjorie Browne Hunt