Painting Portsmouth Notables: 1750-1850

At A Glance

Opens Friday, July 13, 2018

5 – 7 p.m. with a free opening reception

Randall Gallery/Research Library Third Floor, Portsmouth Athenaeum

Above: Portrait of Charles Cushing (1775-1849) by artist Chester Harding, c. 1848. The portrait was in the Wentworth-Coolidge House when owned by the Cushings. [C08.544]

By Sherry Wood

Twenty years before Samuel F.B. Morse changed the world with his electric telegraph, he was an itinerant painter in Portsmouth.

Two of his paintings are part of a new exhibit at the Portsmouth Athenaeum, “Painting Portsmouth Notables: 1750-1850.” On the back of the circa-1816 portrait of John Langdon Storer are scrawled the words, “served in President Andrew Jackson’s cabinet.”

It is one of 20 or so portraits that will be on display through Nov. 3 in the Randall Gallery. Morse (1791-1872) was born in Massachusetts, and married a woman from Concord, N.H. Storer would have been almost 30 when he had his portrait painted, about the time he was appointed a Navy agent.

“Sometimes when you became successful, you decided to commemorate yourself,”  exhibit co-curator Sandra Rux said. “I think some of it might be that there was somebody in town who was doing the work.”

Joseph Greenleaf Cole did the portraits of about 60 people in Portsmouth in 1829 and 1830. “He advertised that he was painting; his studio was on Market Square, across from the Athenaeum,” Rux said.

Keeper Tom Hardiman said 45 of Cole’s portraits are related to members of the Athenaeum, including the painting of the membership library’s first president, Nathaniel Adams, which has pride of place in the first-floor Reading Room.

The exhibit is a group effort; Hardiman and Athenaeum Curator Elizabeth Aykroyd are co-curators.

Hardiman and Rux will give a gallery talk on the exhibit on Sept. 15 at 11 a.m. To make a reservation, call 603-431-2538.

The opening reception will be from 5 to 7 p.m. on July 13.