The first in a series of blog entries focusing on conservation “interventions” as recorded in the holdings of the Frick Art Reference Library Photoarchive is this elegant image of Mrs. William Bedlow Crosby (the former Harriet Ashton Clarkson) attributed to the portrait, still life, and miniature painter Eliab Metcalf (1785‒1834). Born in Philadelphia in 1786, Crosby was portrayed in about 1807, just after her marriage (she gracefully displays her wedding ring), in a buff-colored short jacket or canezou trimmed with lace (below). Yet when the portrait was restored between 1935 and 1940, the conservator opted to add a red shawl and remove the jacket, thus “revealing” an Empire dress with short puff sleeves (above). This revised outfit probably correspondeded more closely to the owner's and the restorer's conceptions of the fashions of the early nineteenth century. Although cazenous (also known as “Spencer” jackets) were popular throughout the Regency era, they are unfamiliar to most modern viewers, many of whom would, however, associate Harriet’s new look with the age of Napoleon, Joséphine de Beauharnais, and Jane Austen.
The painting and its companion portrait of Harriet's husband William Bedlow Crosby (1784‒1865) descended in the family through their son Robert to his daughter Cornelia, who bequeathed both canvases to the Museum of the City of New York in 1938. The museum attributes both portraits to Samuel Lovett Waldo (1783‒1861); the Photoarchive favors the attribution suggested by Martin S. Soría in 1960.
Attributed to Eliab Metcalf (1785‒1834), Mrs. William Bedlow Crosby (Harriet Ashton Clarkson), ca. 1807 (after restoration). Oil on canvas. Museum of the City of New York (38.520.2)
Attributed to Eliab Metcalf (1785‒1834), Mrs. William Bedlow Crosby (Harriet Ashton Clarkson), ca. 1807 (before restoration). Oil on canvas. Museum of the City of New York (38.520.2)