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The May Queen (The Crowning of Flora)

Marling, Jacob
Place Made:
Raleigh North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
oil on canvas
__30 1/8 __ __39 1/8
Accession Number:
This painting depicts the spring celebration at the Raleigh Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1816. It presents a rare view of student life at one of the many academies that were founded throughout the United States in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.

The Raleigh Minerva newspaper captured the May 10 scene in an article that was republished as far away as New Hampshire: “I have often heard of the celebration of May Day, but never witnessed the festivities and amusements of crowning the Queen of this joyous season until the entrance of the present month. On the first of May, the young ladies belonging to the Raleigh Female Academy, assembled under the wide-spreading trees which embosom their building, and proceeded to the election of a Queen. Miss Mary DuBose, of Georgia, was the successful candidate. She was conducted to the rural throne, when bring seated, she was, with suitable ceremonies, crowned with a chaplet of flowers… Some slight refreshments were distributed among the votaries of Flora, the students, and the many ladies and gentlemen who were spectators of the scene. The echoes of the grove wee awakened by the melody of musick…” The article continued, “Mr. Marling, so well known for his skill and taste in painting, was present and sketched a likeness of the May Queen as she appeared in her ensigns of royalty; and the lovers of the fine arts may expect to be gratified with a sight of the picture at his exhibition gallery, when it shall have received the finishing touches of his pencil.”

Several of the figures in the painting can be identified. The May Queen at the center of the composition is Mary DuBose of Georgia. Based on his similarity to a surviving portrait, the Reverend William McPheeters (1778-1842), the Principal of the Raleigh Academy and pastor of the city’s First Presbyterian Church, is the figure standing in the middle of the three men on the right. To his left, holding an instrument, is probably the Academy’s German-born music teacher, John F. Goneke. The woman seated at the far left, with her face obscured by her bonnet, is probably Susan Davis Nye (1790-1867), the preceptress of the Female Academy. Nye’s journals, under her married name Susan Davis Nye Hutchinson, are in the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Raleigh Academy was chartered in 1801. It enjoyed broad support among Raleigh’s elite as well as the patronage of elected officials. The school educated young men and women in a wide range of subjects. Though the school was led for many years by the Presbyterian clergyman William McPheeters, it was officially non-sectarian. Compared to its peers, the Raleigh Academy was unusually successful, remaining in operation for nearly three decades. In addition to educating elite students from as far away as Mississippi, it also offered a Lancasterian school for the poor. Under this system, older students supervised the education of younger students

ARTIST: Jacob Marling (1774-1833) was a Philadelphia-trained artist who arrived in Virginia in 1795. In his earliest advertisement, published in May 1795 in Fredericksburg, he stated that he had trained “under the direction of James Cox, of whom he has received the theory and practice of the… arts in a study of 7 years…” James Cox (1751-1834) was an eccentric English-born artist whose library of 5000 volumes was acquired by the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1832. After about a month in Fredericksburg, Marling relocated to Richmond. There he offered instruction in “DRAWING and PAINTING upon Paper, Glass, Satin, Muslin, Tiffany, and Canvass…” He also advertised his skills in “drawing for needlework.”

In 1796 Marling began teaching in Petersburg, Virginia, as well. By 1797 Marling appears to have permanently relocated to that city. In addition to teaching art, Marling also offered his services as a miniature, portrait, and landscape painter. In 1808 he advertised “Portraits… from a quarter size to full length.” Archival research by J. Christian Kolbe and Lyndon H. Hart III shows that Marling struggled with debt. In 1800, “A Lottery for Paintings and Prints” was held to raise money to cover Marling’s debts. The lottery included a variety of works–presumably by Marling–including history paintings, genre scenes, and landscapes.

In his advertisements, Marling stated a willingness to teach one day a week “in the country, not father distant than thirty, or forty miles, provided a sufficient number of Scholars could be obtained, so as to make it worthy the inconvenience and trouble that must necessarily accompany such an undertaking.” This willingness to teach in country may explain how he met his wife, Louisa Simmons (d.1865), of Southampton County, Virginia.

About 1812, the Marling family departed Petersburg for Raleigh, North Carolina. In North Carolina’s capitol city, Marling offered his services as an artist and a teacher. In 1815 he established a Museum and Gallery in the city. In addition to art, Marling’s museum included “natural and artificial curiosities…” as well as a library.

Louisa Marling helped support the family by teaching art at the Raleigh Academy. Newspaper articles about he annual student examinations and exhibitions note that “Pupils of Mrs. Marling, exhibited a variety of landscapes and flowers…” At times her students copied work by her husband. At the semi-annual examination in June 1819, Lavinia Richardson of Georgia copied two paintings, a view “of the State House… and one of a field… in the neighborhood of this city…” The Star and North-Carolina State Gazette declared her copies to be “fine specimens of art, which do equal credit to the genius and industry of the copyist.” Louisa and Jacob also taught independently of the Raleigh Academy. In 1820 she advertised instruction in “Drawing and Painting” assisted by “Mr. Marling (who) will in the future assist her in the tuition of her pupils.”

A number of works attributed to Marling are known. The vast majority are portraits Raleigh citizens and state officials and . His two best-known works are his painting of “The May Queen” in the collection of the Chrysler Museum of Art (CMA 80.181.20) and his painting of the State House in Raleigh, in the collection of the State Archives of North Carolina (NCSA T-72.4.22).

Jacob Marling died in 1833. The Raleigh Register wrote, “DIED: In this city on the 18th instant, after a long and painful illness, Mr. Jacob Marling, whose fine taste and skill as a portrait and landscape painter are extensively known, aged about 60 years, leaving a widow and numerous friends to lament his loss.”

REFERENCES: Davida Deutsch, “The Crowning of Flora: Mr Marling and Ladies Identified”, The Luminary (Summer 1988).

J. Christian Kolbe and Lyndon H. Hart III, “The Virginia Career of Jacob Marling”, The MESDA Journal, (Summer 1996).

Jacob Marling: Early North Carolina Artist (Raleigh, North Carolina: North Carolina Museum of Art, 1964).

Kim Tolley, “A Chartered School in a Free Market: Th Case of the Raleigh Academy, 1801-1828”, Teachers College Record (January 2005).

Kim Tolley, Heading South to Teach: The World of Susan Nye Hutchison (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2015).

The painting remained with the artist and his estate until at least 1838. In 1838 a painting titled “Queen of May” was sold at his estate sale to John G. Marshall. He paid $20.25 for it, nearly four-times as much as any other painting in the sale. Marshall purchased a total of five paintings at the sale, including a portrait of the Academy’s long-time leader Reverend William McPheeters. John G. Marshall was an alumni and his father was an early Trustee of the Academy. McPheeter’s preached the sermon at Marshall’s father’s funeral. Marshall was a grocer who also operated “Eating Rooms… (offering) relishes and refreshments of every description.” Perhaps these paintings hung in this establishment. A 1911 article about Jacob Marling included a reference to a painting of “The May Queen” that was in the possession of his wife, Louisa (Simmons) Marling, at the time of her death in 1865. Assuming that there was only one painting by that title, perhaps she acquired it from John G. Marshall after his death. Following Louisa’s death, the painting may have passed to her family, many of whom resided in the vicinity of Petersburg, Virginia. In 1943 the painting left a Petersburg-area collection and was offered by the Harry Shaw Newman Gallery of New York. At that time it was mistakenly identified as “A Young Ladies Seminary in Virginia.” It was acquired by Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch in 1948. They gave the painting to the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1980.
Credit Line:
Loan courtesy of the Chrysler Museum of Art, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch