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Rufus Hathaway (1770 - 1822)

Lot 379: RUFUS HATHAWAY (1770-1822)


January 20, 2006
New York, NY, US

More About this Item



38 7/8 in. by 33in.

alternate measurements
98.7cm by 83.8cm

oil on canvas


The portraits have descended in the family of the sitters to the present owners:
Josiah Dean and Sarah (Byram) Dean;
Sarah Dean (daughter of Josiah and Sarh Byram Dean) and Isaiah Weston;
Isaiah Weston and Carolyn Curtis Weston;
Byron Weston and Julia Clark Mitchell Weston;
And by descent


painted circa 1791

Rufus Hathaway, an engaging self-taught artist, was born on May 2, 1770, in Freetown, near Fall River, Massachusetts, and is known to have worked in Bristol, Rhode Island, and in Taunton and Duxbury, Massachusetts. He must have begun his career as an itinerant painter in the Taunton region around 1790. His earliest known portrait was initialed and dated 1790. Hathaway was drawn to the prosperous shipbuilding community of Duxbury on Plymouth Bay by collateral relatives and by the lure of portrait commissions. One of his most prestigious commissions was for the Weston family of Duxbury. The largest shipbuilding industry there was owned by Ezra Weston, who came to be known as "King Caesar" due to his success and influence. A man with a driving ambition, Weston began building small vessels in 1764 and soon became famous for his successful merchant fleet. (The Weston family is the subject of a new book King Caesar of Duxbury: Exploring the World of Ezra Weston, Shipbuilder and Merchant by Patrick Browne, Executive Director of the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society). In 1795, Weston's great nephew Isaiah married Sarah, daughter of Josiah and Sarah Dean, the subjects of the present portraits. While it is a matter of speculation, Weston may well have known the Dean portraits through these family connections and determined to engage Hathaway as well. Ten portraits by Hathaway of Weston family members are known. At least 6 were completed by 1793, as recorded in a bill of sale dated January 5 of that year. Intriguingly, the bill includes these paintings at 1 pound, 10 shillings, as well as charges for ten frames: two at 3 shillings, two at 2 shillings, 10 pence, and the painting and gilding of six more at 3 shillings.

It seems likely that, given the simplicity of the frames considered to be original to Hathaway's paintings, and the language of the Weston bill, that he made the frames for these works. A number of surviving works by Hathaway, including those in the collections of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center at Colonial Williamsburg, the paintings formerly in the collection of Nina Fletcher Little survive in 3 inch molded white pine frames, painted black with a border of gilding - frames that Little described as original. The catalogue of the Williamsburg Collection further states that the frames on their pictures were made by Hathaway.

Josiah Dean III (1748-1818) and his wife, Sarah (Byram) Dean of Raynham, Massachusetts, were also prominent members of the mercantile elite of Duxbury. Josiah was engaged in the rolling-mill and shipbuilding business. He was elected selectman in 1781, the town clerk in 1805 and served in the Massachusetts State Senate, 1804-1807. He was elected as the Republican representative to the Tenth Congress of the United States (March 4, 1807-1809), after which he returned to Massachusetts and was elected to the State House of Representatives in 1810 to 1811. The paintings have descended to the present owners in an unbroken line of succeeding generations of family members.

Josiah and Sarah were descended from various Mayflower Pilgrims including Thomas Rodgers. The later Westons traced their ancestry to other pilgrim worthies including Governor William Bradford, Elder William Brewster, Experience Mitchell and Priscilla and John Alden, of poetic fame.

Rufus Hathaway has long been a favorite of American folk art enthusiasts. His reputation was clearly established in 1953, when Art in America published a lengthy study of his works by the renowned scholar and collector Nina Fletcher Little. By1987 twenty portraits by Hathaway had been identified; commissions obtained mostly through family connections, and were exhibited at the Art Complex Museum in Duxbury. Based on the identification of his sitters, it is believed that he was in Scituate, Massachusetts, in 1794, but had returned to Duxbury by 1795. He married Judith Winsor, the subject of one of his portraits, on December 10, 1795. His father-in-law, Joshua Winsor, frowned on painting as a means of supporting a family and urged his son-in-law to study medicine with Dr. Isaac Winslow of Marshfield, and hence the artist became a respected physician in Duxbury. Between February 1796 and December 1821 Rufus and Judith Hathaway had twelve children. As he grew older his medical practice probably took more and more of his time, and there are no known paintings by him after 1808. During this brief career, Hathaway produced some of the most lively and sophisticated works to come out of New England in the early national period. Hathaway died in 1822 and is buried in the Mayflower Cemetery in Duxbury.

The first fully signed and dated portraits by Hathaway are of Reverend Caleb and Mrs. Phebe King Turner of Middleborough and Taunton Precinct (now Lakeville), Massachusetts. Dr. Turner's portrait is signed In anno 1791, Aetatis suae 58. Rufus Hatheway (sic). At this early date, when the artist was only twenty-one years of age, his bold and linear style captures the features and the spirit of his New England sitters. Mrs. Turner holds a rose decorated fan that links her portrait to other images of New England gentlewomen painted by Hathaway. The same fan is seen in Mrs. Dean's portrait of the same year (the present example) and most famously in the portrait of Molly Fobes Wales of Marshfield, Massachusetts, initialed and dated RH 1790 now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a gift of legendary collectors Colonel Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch.

For further information on Hathaway, see,
Nina Fletcher Little, "Doctor Rufus Hathaway," Art in America, vol. 41, no.3, pp.95-139 (Summer 1953)
Nina Fletcher Little, Paintings by New England Provincial Artists, 1775-1800 (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1976, pp. 116-118, figs. 48 and 49)
Nina Fletcher Little, American Folk Painters of Three Centuries, Jean Lipman and Tom Armstrong, editors (New York: Hudson Hills Press, Inc. in association with the Whitney Museum of Art, 1980), pp. 35-40
Stacy C. Hollander, American Radiance, The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001, pp. 409-410)

Request more information


January 20, 2006, 12:00 AM EST

New York, NY, US

For Sale from Sotheby's