b. 8 Oct 1808, Malta, NY - d. 28 Jul 1892, Saratoga Springs, NY and most likely buried in Greenridge Cemetery, Saratoga Springs, NY. This portrait miniature is painted on ivory and only 2 1/3" x 1 1/4" in size. A New York State collector purchased the portrait in December 2009 and it was to be resold at auction in May 2010. However, no record of this sale has been found. Given the painting's similarity to a photograph taken of Nelson Cook at age 45 in 1853/1854, there is no doubt this miniature depicts the artist as a young man. Although it is known that Cook and/or his wife, Esther, painted portrait miniatures in their early years [see Letters from Canada: 1836-1837], none has ever surfaced - until now perhaps. Unfortunately, the miniature is unsigned, making it difficult to know for sure who painted it. But three possibilities exist: Nelson, Esther, or a third-party artist. As evidenced by the expressive modeling of the face and the lifelike texture and wave of the hair, the style and quality appear much more animated than the primitive and stiff images Nelson was painting early in his career [see Lemuel Dickinson]. These factors might rule out Nelson as the artist, especially when the miniature is compared to another less whimsical painting thought to be a Cook self-portrait done 2 to 3 years later in 1832. But if the 1829/1830 miniature could be verified as having been done by Nelson himself, it would be the earliest known Cook portrait still in existence. A very significant find to say the least! And while several 19th century references have suggested Esther was a portraitist in her own right, no authenticated paintings by her hand are known to exist, which would leave one hard-pressed to attribute this portrait to her based on any known style. Lastly, perhaps a third-party artist did this portrait of Nelson. But as young, aspiring painters presumably with little money in 1829/1830, would the Cooks have had the means and desire for another artist to do Nelson's portrait -- one that could not be used as a promotional vehicle for their fledgling portraiture business? Or might well-off brother Ransom have commissioned the miniature as an inspirational gift for Nelson, who was just embarking on his portrait career? We may never know who painted this wonderful miniature. There are two separate inscriptions on the back, which appear to have been done by two different people, presumably at two different times. If accurate, the top inscription helps date the portrait, while the bottom inscription refers to Esther Marion Ellenwood Eastman, Nelson Cook's only granddaughter. The miniature is damaged on the left-hand side, but otherwise appears to be in good condition given its age.
Family records say that Cook's age when he completed this self-portrait, 24, is written on the back of the photo of the painting, taken when the portrait hung on the wall of a descendant [note what is apparently a portrait lamp (or possibly a desk lamp) intruding on the portrait image]. If true, the work was finished just before Cook went to Canada in 1832. Cook apparently did display a self-portrait in Kingston, and he entered a self-portrait in Toronto's Society of Artists and Amateurs exhibition in the Canadian Parliament buildings in July, 1834 [Were they the same painting? Could this self-portrait be the one?]. The Toronto entry, along with another entry of his [John P. Kemble as Hamlet], was said by one writer in the Toronto Courier, to be "equal to the best in the exhibition… rich and splendid paintings," by another to be "spirited and expressive" if poorly drawn; not everyone was as charitable. See also Self-Portrait? 1856 and As a Portraitist.
Courtesy of H.A. Eastman
b. 22 Oct 1760 in Hatfield, MA - d. 14 May 1835 in Denmark, NY; son of John Dickinson, Sr. and Mary Coleman; 27 Nov 1773 married Molly/Mollie Little (1752-1830) and fathered ten children, including Barnabas and Horace, who later teamed up in the transport business; Hatfield, MA landowner, farmer, and militia officer during American Revolutionary War and combatant at Bunker Hill - early 1800s land deeds listed his name as General Dickinson, as he was known henceforth; moved family to Lowville in Western New York in 1806, and eventually settled in Denmark, NY where he was a tavern keeper, an 1808 founding trustee of Lowville Academy, a member of the Lewis County Bible Society from at least 1812-1819, and an 1815 founding trustee of the First Ecclesiastical Society of Denmark; father/grandfather of other Dickinson sitters [see below]. Written on the back of this portrait is "Painted by N. Cook, 1832." It is not known whether Cook had in fact entered Canada by 1832. While by this time most of the Dickinson family had moved to Ontario, Lemuel apparently remained in Denmark, this according to Barbara Snyder, "Nelson Cook in Canada," Canadian Collector, Sep-Oct 1976. Moreover, grandson Walter Dickinson went to Lowville Academy near Denmark, so it is possible this and other "Canadian" portraits were done in New York. See Barnabas Dickinson and Parrit Blaisdell.
Courtesy of Upper Canada Village, #1970.12.1
b. 5 May 1783 - d. 26 Aug 1832, Cornwall, Ont.; son of Lemuel; on 24 Jan 1811 married Lydia Davenport (1793-1865); ancestors said to have come on Mayflower; father of Moss Kent, Sophia, Walter and John; settled in Lowville, NY, moved to Denmark, NY in 1810, and then to Cornwall in Canada in 1828, though he spent much time in Canada prior to this last move; founder of Dickinson's Landing, a village on the St. Lawrence eventually flooded out by the Seaway; ran stagecoach/mail line with brother Horace from Kingston to Montreal; within days of a visit to opening of Rideau Canal with Moss Kent, Barnabas died of cholera, then an epidemic in the area perhaps worsened by the large impoverished immigrant population which dug the Canal. This portrait is labeled on the front lower left corner "Barnabas Dickenson [sic]/Aged 49 Years/A.D. 1832," and verso "Painted by N. Cook". The same chair may have been used for several of the Dickinson subjects as well as for Parrit Blaisdell, who lived in New York across the river -- Had Cook yet entered Canada? See Lemuel Dickinson.
Courtesy of Upper Canada Village, #1970.12.2
b. 1 June 1822, Denmark, NY - d. 19 July 1897; son of Barnabas/us and Lydia Dickinson; m. Elizabeth Trigge, ca 1846, 3 sons, 3 daughters; ran numerous steamers and barges between Ottawa and Kingston on the Rideau Canal [which employed Nicol Hugh Baird]; extended his freight forwarding to Quebec and Lake Champlain [see JH Hooker]; mill owner in Manotick, S of Ottawa, home in his later years; mayor of Ottawa, 1864-66; elected to Dominion Parliament, 1882; buried Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa. Dickinson Days, with parades and dancing, are still celebrated every June in Manotick, where Moss Kent's stone mill is a tourist destination. This portrait of Moss Kent as a boy of 10 unsigned but attributed to Cook.
Courtesy of Upper Canada Village, #1970.12.3
b. c. 1828 - d. 30 Aug 1832; daughter of Barnabas Dickinson and Lydia Davenport; died four days after her father as a result of the same cholera epidemic. Inscribed on stretcher: "Painted by N Cook 1832." For many years the adorable little girl pictured in this portrait was thought to be named "Emily." However, after extensive research by the Royal Ontario Museum, it was confirmed that the only daughter born to Barnabas and Lydia was Sophia, who was named after Barnabas' sister. This portrait, along with seven others depicting children, was the subject of a 2011-2012 Royal Ontario Museum exhibit called "Sitting Still: Faces of Childhood."
With permission of the Royal Ontario Museum © ROM, #999.125.1
Eldest son of Barnabas Dickinson; in 1832 student in academy near Denmark, Lewis County, NY, the same school where his grandfather, Lemuel, was a founding trustee in 1808. Since the academy is some 100 miles from Cornwall, Ont., as with the rest of the family, it is unclear whether Cook painted the portrait in New York or Upper Canada. [See John Dickinson.] Inscribed on stretcher: "Painted by N. Cook"
With permission of the Royal Ontario Museum © ROM, #994.208.1
Son of Barnabas Dickinson. The curator at UCV writes: "There is a hand-written note that identifies the portrait as Walter and then it is stroked out and reidentified as John. If the Royal Ontario Museum is convinced [?] that they have the Walter portrait, then… that helps identify ours somewhat as John, but not conclusively." Further, the painting has been seriously altered and overpainted, especially in the background, clothing and hair; the face and hands, however, seem to be original and untouched. The portrait is unsigned but attributed to Cook.
Courtesy of Upper Canada Village, #1970.12.4
b. 4 May 1796, Orange, Grafton County, NH - d. 3 (4?) Aug 1834; son of merchant, stage driver, and Revolutionary War and War of 1812 veteran Parrit Blaisdell; Parrit, Jr. (who might have sometimes been called "Peter" as family lore has him) was also a stage driver between Windsor and Montpelier, VT; m. Betsey Standish, 1 Jan 1822, Montpelier; family moved in 1825 to Ft. Covington, NY; there the Standish Genealogy says he was a clock and watchmaker, while family lore suggests he may also have been a silversmith; he and his 10-year-old son Edwin died of cholera. [See Barnabas Dickinson; Ft. Covington, NY, is across the St. Lawrence River from Barnabas's town of Cornwall, Ontario; this geography, plus the chair in which some subjects are sitting, suggest that the Dickinsons and Blaisdells were painted at the same time, either in Canada or on the New York side.]
b. 24 Aug 1799, Middleborough, Plymouth, MA - d. 30 May 1888, Hartford, CT; direct 7th generation descendant of Myles Standish, born to farmer Moses and Sally Redding Standish, one of perhaps 10 children; family moved to West Randolph, Orange County, VT; she and husband Parrit Blaisdell, Jr. had three children, Edwin Miles Standish (1824), Chester Wright (1826), and Harriet Elizabeth (ca 1828); after Parrit's death, by 1844, married Lyman Sperry (ca 1789 - 1857) of Malone, Franklin County, NY; after Lyman's death "Grandma Sperry" lived ca 30 years with daughter Harriet Fiske in Malone, later in Hartford.
b. ca 1794? 1799?, probably Scotland (Ireland?) - d. April 1864, Thunder Bay, Canada West (today Ontario). Employed by Hudson's Bay Company 1812-1830; posted primarily to Saskatchewan, Lake Athabasca and Great Slave Lake areas, earning a reputation as a fighter in the ongoing rivalry with North West Company; held prisoner for a time by NWC, fought a duel with an NWC clerk, and apparently involved in unfortunate incident when forced to surrender an Indian soon "butchered in a most cruel manner" by explorer/trader Peter Ogden, another "Nor'Wester." With the merger of the two fur-trading companies (1821), McVicar became one of 28 "chief traders"; retired in 1830; farmed outside Montreal; as captain of St. Andrews Rifle Company helped quell the 1837 Rebellion [see Sir Francis Bond Head]; in 1860 became Postmaster, Ft. William/Thunder Bay; active writer and promoter of western settlement. Although Robert died without achieving his long-sought status as a wealthy landowner, his name lives on in the McVicar Arm of Great Bear Lake and McVicar Creek in what is now Port Arthur; buried Riverside Cemetery, Thunder Bay. Portrait apparently painted in Quebec City [see below].
Courtesy of the McCord Museum of Canadian History, acc #M14908
b. ca 18 Aug 1810-14? - d. 14 Jun 1878; went by nickname of Christy; the daughter of pioneers, married Robert McVicar at Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca on May 28, 1827; the ceremony was conducted by the famous and tragic Arctic explorer John Franklin (1786-1847); she and Robert had two sons [George and the other name unknown] and two daughters [Victoria (late 1830s-1899) and Christina (late 1830s-1895)]. Both daughters became wealthy through aggressive land deals and achieved the financial success that had evaded their father, Robert. Additionally, Victoria, a spinster, became well-known as a dramatic and “spirited frontier woman,” and reportedly negotiated with Metis rebel Louis Riel for the release of prisoners. Or was this simply another example of self-promotional embellishment on Victoria’s part? Christy died at Fort William, Ontario on Lake Superior. Her portrait, like Robert’s, was apparently painted in Quebec City.
Courtesy of the McCord Museum of Canadian History, acc #M14907
b. 26 Aug 1796, Glasgow, Scotland - d. 18 Oct 1849, Brattleboro, VT; son of Hugh Nicol Baird and Margaret Burthwaite; engineer, surveyor, and prominent developer of Canadian water transport; worked with father on Forth & Clyde and Union Canals, Scotland, and, as a teen, on the restoration of St. Petersburg, Russia; to Montreal (1828) with references from Duke of Montrose and from renowned British engineer Thomas Telford; assigned to Clerk of Works, Rideau Canal, under Lt. Col. John By, replacing the controversial, malarial, and apparently oft-drunk surveyor and author John MacTaggart; worked also on Chambly and Welland Canals, Presqu'ile Point lighthouse, Trent Severn Waterway; latter efforts "cut short by political interference"; admitted to Britain's Institution of Civil Engineers, 1831. s., d. verso. Along with the portrait of his wife and daughter (Mary Telfer Baird and Mary), this portrait was displayed on the Rideau Canal, at the base of the Bank Street bridge at eye level for passing Winterlude skaters in February 2008.
National Archives of Canada, R7620-1
b. after 1808, Montreal - d. 20 Aug 1847, Montreal; m. engineer Nicol Hugh Baird, 21 Sep 1831 in Bytown (renamed Ottawa, 1855); on mother's knee in portrait is first-born child Mary Telfer Baird (b. 13 Sep 1832, Bytown - d. 25 July 1918, buried Paris, Ontario; m. Robert Thompson, MD); the Bairds had a total of eight children, four boys and four girls; Mary gave birth to twin girls one week before her death. Apparently Mary's father, prominent businessman and builder Andrew White (b. ca 1783, Scotland - d. 11 July 1832, Montreal; wife Mary) died in the same cholera epidemic which took Cook subjects Barnabas Dickinson and Parrit Blaisdell, a disease perhaps acquired at the Rideau Canal (opened May, 1832), where, like Mary's husband, White worked with Lt Col John By. As in other early Cooks, the sitters in this portrait are backed by a flat brown surface, but figures are detailed: the elder Mary wears 'sausage roll curls,' dark dress with puffed sleeves, white lace-trimmed blouse, a white, red and green shawl around her neck; jewelry, including earrings, necklace, brooch, and rings, underscore her station in society; baby Mary wears a medium-blue dress, ruffled lace eyelet cap, and red beads. s., d. verso. The Baird portraits [see Nicol Hugh Baird] are reported to be the oldest pair of family portraits in Ottawa's National Archives.
National Archives of Canada, R7620-2
b. 1797 - d. 1870, Brockville, Ontario; lawyer and Judge of Johnstown District Court, centered at Perth and including the Bathurst District; would practice law with William Buell Richards, later Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Canada; brother of lawyer/judge John G. Malloch and apparently uncle of pioneering Canadian surgeon A. E. Malloch; from Brockville, a town near the St. Lawrence some 60 miles upriver from Cornwall, Ont., and Fort Covington, NY [see Barnabas Dickinson, Parrit Blaisdell]. Inscribed verso on canvas: Painted by Nelson Cook - 1834.
With permission of the Royal Ontario Museum © ROM, #990.202.1
b. c. 1808 - d. Feb 1893; Cook's wife; portrait noted in an undated (c. 1885) newspaper article as one of several paintings in Cook's Saratoga Springs studio; probably painted in Canada as an example of his work for prospective patrons.
b. 19 September 1778, Edinburgh, Scotland - d. 7 May 1868, Cannes, France; buried Cimetière du Grand Jas, Cannes, France; in 1821 married Mary Spalding with whom he had two daughters; Brougham also was rumored to be the father of political writer Marie Blaze de Bury (pen name “Arthur Dudley”). After co-founding the highly successful third version of cultural magazine Edinburgh Review in 1802, Brougham left Scotland for London and in 1808 received his barrister law degree before being elected to the House of Commons as a Whig in 1810. Although defeated in 1812, he regained his seat in 1816, and was well known as a frequent speaker on such issues as legal reform, the abolition of slavery, and education for the poor, who were then largely dependent on abusive charities for their schooling. Between 1816 and 1818 Brougham chaired a select committee investigating the need for educational reform for the lower-class poor. Largely due to Brougham’s high-profile chairmanship and his many years of advocacy via parliamentary speeches, published essays, and a lengthy open letter to House of Commons member and former solicitor general Sir Samuel Romilly, in 1818 a bill was passed appointing commissioners to probe what were deemed to be out-of-control abuses of charities in Great Britain. In subsequent years these investigations led to many reforms, which improved the lives of the underprivileged. A further turning point in Brougham’s career was as a long-term advisor to Queen Caroline, the estranged wife of the future King George IV, who filed for formal divorce proceedings from Caroline in 1820 soon after he took the throne. In his role as Caroline’s attorney-general, Brougham defended his client when the House of Lords debated The Pains and Penalties Bill, which would have dissolved the King’s marriage and removed any royal ties from Caroline. Despite Brougham’s very highly-publicized defense of Caroline, the Bill narrowly passed, but was quickly withdrawn when it was feared the unpopular law would be nullified in the House of Commons. Brougham soon became one of the most well-known personages in all of Britain, and was so popular, in 1827 he was named the King’s Counsel by George IV. In 1830 Brougham was named Lord High Chancellor (minister of justice) of Great Britain when Whig Lord Grey became Prime Minister. And only months later Brougham ascended to the peerage with the new title of 1st Baron of Brougham and Vaux. Despite the passage of the 1832 Reform Act and the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act during his tenure, Brougham’s position as Lord High Chancellor ended in 1834 when he had a falling out with new Whig Prime Minister Lord Melbourne. Although Brougham never again ran for office, he remained active in Parliament’s judicial proceedings by periodically advocating a variety of liberal reform measures for such things as public education. Lord Brougham was to spend much of his remaining 34 years in Cannes, France, with which he became totally enchanted soon after leaving Parliament. He nearly single-handedly popularized the town as one of its first international celebrities in a long line that would follow him some 200 years later. The portrait was sold at auction on May 2, 2023 by Doyle Auctioneers and Appraisers of New York, NY for $405, including the 26% buyer’s premium and state taxes. The oil-on-canvas painting is 15 5/8” x 13 ½” and has been mounted to a Masonite support. As is true of most Cooks, craquelure is evident. Overpainting is visible in the sitter’s jacket and along the right edge of the red curtain. Also, a few areas in the background to the left of the sitter’s head have been inpainted, and the signature and date have been strengthened. Given the 1834 date and the artistic style exhibited, this portrait would have been completed very early in Cook’s career, during the artist’s first two years in Canada. What’s especially intriguing about this painting is that it serves as an initial transitional bridge between Cook’s 1832 primitive and flat renderings (see the Dickinson and Blaisdell family portraits) and his more three-dimensional and expressive portraits of 1837, as evidenced by Cook’s painting of Sir Francis Bond Head. As shown by the detail of Brougham’s face, the artist has made a concerted effort to model his sitter’s facial contours, which he eventually even more realistically achieved with his Bond Head and subsequent Canadian renderings. Equally interesting, for the first time some compositional elements are shown in this portrait, which would later become Cook’s hallmarks both in Canada and especially during his more sophisticated years in New York state: a red curtain in the background, which would later evolve into a red seat for the sitter, and in the foreground a book or document reminiscent of a key achievement by the sitter. In this case, the document reads: “A Bill Preventing the Abuse of Charities,” which Brougham must have felt was his crowning achievement during his many years of fighting for the rights and welfare of the under-educated poor. For the rest of the Lord Brougham portrait story, go to “Authenticating a Nelson Cook Portrait”
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