Collections › MESDA Collection › William Boswell Lamb and Family

William Boswell Lamb and Family

Benbridge, Henry
Place Made:
Norfolk Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
oil on canvas
HOA: 30″; WOA: 25″
Accession Number:
SITTERS: One of just two known surviving works by Henry Benbridge during his Norfolk, Virginia, period, this portrait depicts William Boswell Lamb (1774-1852), his wife, Margaret Stuart Kerr (1777-1844), and their son, William Wilson Lamb (1803-1874). William B. Lamb was a Norfolk merchant who served as an alderman and later mayor in 1810, 1812, 1814, 1816, and 1823. In 1815, he was elected president of the Virginia Bank. Lamb married Margaret Stuart Kerr, the daughter of Scottish-born merchant Samuel Kerr. Both their son, William Wilson Lamb, and their grandson, Colonel William Lamb, also served as mayors of Norfolk. Built around 1845, the Lamb family’s three-story brick townhouse, formerly called Kenmure, still stands at 420 Bute Street in Norfolk.

ATTRIBUTION: This work has been attributed to Henry Benbridge on the basis of the classical setting, the subjects’ poses, and the slightly disproportionate figures.

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 his 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 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: Group portrait of family: man, woman, and child standing outdoors. The man wears a cutaway black tail-coat with a high rolled collar, white cravat & vest, tight fitted trousers and high boots. He carries a hat. The woman wears a floor-length, high-waisted short-sleeved white dress. She holds the infant, who is wearing a similar dress. In the backgound on the left are columns and pedestals, on the right is a landscape.

Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alban K. Barrus