The Museum’s American Art Portraits

October 23, 2014


Anna Walraven, c.1850. Unknown artist. Oil on board, 35 1/2 × 28 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Bequest of Ada W. Manning, 1983.

This fall, the Museum refreshed the galleries dedicated to 18th- and 19th-century American Art. As part of this reinstallation, the first gallery highlights 100 years of portraiture in this region. The contents span 1757 through 1856, and all the portraits were produced within a 50-mile radius of the Delaware Art Museum. Familiar favorites by Benjamin West, Thomas Sully, and the Peales are joined by images of two Delaware women. Five-year-old Anna Walraven (1846–1927) holds a daguerreotype of her family, who had recently relocated from Pennsylvania to open a variety store in Wilmington. The first child of John Harding Walraven and Margaret S. Grubb, Anna Walraven later married J. Augustus McCaulley, President of Artisans Saving Bank. The painter of Walraven’s portrait has not been identified, but it is likely the work of an itinerant portrait painter, who traveled to smaller cities and through rural areas painting portraits on commission.

Sally Ann Ross Paynter, 1856. Robert Street (1796-1865). Oil on canvas, 31 x 25 3/4 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Bequest of Mrs. Leah B. Paynter, 1968.

Nearby hangs a portrait of Sally Ann Ross Paynter (1812–1866), the daughter of Caleb and Letitia Ross of Laurel, Delaware. She married Samuel Rowland Paynter, a successful merchant in Sussex County and son of Samuel Paynter, a governor of Delaware. Her brother was William H. Ross, also governor of Delaware, and her son John H. Paynter became a state Supreme Court justice. This well-connected woman traveled to Philadelphia to have her portrait painted by Robert Street (1796–1865), an artist whose portrait of Andrew Jackson had been displayed at the White House. In 1840, over 200 paintings by Street were exhibited at the Artists’ Fund Hall in Philadelphia, ensuring him the reputation to attract sitters of Paynter’s stature.

The portraits of Anna Walraven and Sally Ann Ross Paynter are large and colorful, and both make strong statements about the aspirations and accomplishments of these local families. Walraven is depicted among stylish furniture and books, and Paynter wears an elegant dress and fashionable jewelry. These were painted in the 1850s, just as photographs—like the daguerreotype clutched by Anna Walraven—were replacing miniature portraits as mementos. However, there was still a market for distinctive painted portraits that brought color and character to Victorian interiors.

As part of the Museum’s reinstallation, I am excited to have the opportunity to present these and other local stories in the context of the dynamic national art scene.

Heather Campbell Coyle
Curator of American Art

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