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Portrait of Mrs. E Ball Hughes

By John Trumbull (1756-1843), 1830/1839?
Prints available at Easyart.com

    The Smithsonian SIRIS record references the record of the portrait in The Works of Colonial John Trumbull - Artist of the American Revolution, Revised Edition, New Haven: Yale UP, 1967, p. 43:

    Mrs. Robert Ball (Eliza Wright) Hughes (1807-92)
    Bust, on academy board, 1839, New Haven.
    Mr. Landsdell [sic] K. Christie, Syosset, NY

    According to Christie's Auction House, the oil painting is 27 3/4 x 22 1/2 in.  Provenance: M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1961.  Exhibited: New London, Connecticut, The Lyman Allyn Museum (New London, CT), 1944.  Paper label on the back: Elizabeth Ball Hughes/1807-1892/wife of Robert Ball Hughes, R.A./1804-1868/Painted in 1839 by/Col. John Trumbull of New York/1756-1843//

    The image above was apparently taken by Christie's Images, a division of Christie's Auction House, and licensed to several online art print sellers, including EasyArt.  The image preview of the complete portrait with its frame at www.christiesimages.com is now password protected and restricted to select password holders only.  They state that they are unable to process any new client requests.

    According to the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes, by Mrs. E. Ball Hughes, Col. John Trumbull painted this portrait and one of Robert Ball Hughes in New York in 1830 (and not in 1839 as widely reported) while Ball Hughes was working on the large model for the statue of Hamilton.

    Eliza Ball Hughes was about 23 years old at the time this portrait was painted by the famous patriot and artist Col. John Trumbull (1756-1843).  See Portrait of Robert Ball Hughes for the companion portrait of Robert Ball Hughes by John Trumbull.

    If the portraits were painted in 1839, they would probably have been painted in Trumbull's "painting room" in his residence at the Stillman House in New Haven, CT.  Trumbull moved from New York to live with his niece, Harriet Stillman, and her husband in 1837 according to John Trumbull, Patriot-Artist of the American Revolution, by Irma B. Jaffe. Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1975, pp. 285-286.  Trumbull, who had only one good eye, would have been about 80 years old when he painted these portraits (if they were painted in 1839).  Mrs. Ball Hughes would have been about 32.  In 1841, Trumbull returned to New York where lived the rest of his life.

    According to Lovejoy in The Poker Drawings of Ball-Hughes (1946), the portrait of Mrs. Robert Ball Hughes was in the Yale University Art Gallery at that time.  The last known owner, Lansdell K. Christie, Syosset, NY died in 1965 and the portrait was sold as part of the estate of Mrs. Lansdell K. Christie by Christie's Fine Arts Auction House in New York for $16,100 in 1996.  See Chrisites Lot 323/Sale 8360 Summary.

    Lovejoy apparently got much of the information for his 1946 article from Frederick Rudolf Brown, Grandson of Ball Hughes and the owner of the companion portrait of Robert Ball Hughes by John Trumbull at the time the article was written.  It's not known how the portrait got to the Lyman Allyn Museum in 1944 and the Yale University Art Gallery in 1946 or how it was later acquired by Lansdell Chrisitie.

    According to the Yale University Art Gallery, neither of these portraits are in the Yale collections.  The portrait of Mrs. Ball Hughes may have been on loan to the Art Gallery and later returned to the owner.

    Why would the Ball Hughes family or descendant's have parted with the portrait of Mrs. Ball Hughes?  According to Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes, by Mrs. E. Ball Hughes, she understood that it was willed to the Art Museum of Boston (now the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston?) which may give us part of the answer.


The Mystery of the Trumbull Paintings 

    According to the Yale University Art Gallery, Trumbull apparently did two portraits of each of them.  Trumbull often did more than one portrait of a particular sitter.

    So now we may have two of each painting and still don't know the provenance of Mrs. Robert Ball Hughes portrait or what happened to the second one of Robert Ball Hughes and of Mrs. Robert Ball Hughes.

    It's interesting that the painting above is labeled "Elizabeth Ball Hughes" and Theodore Sizer's record says "Mrs. Robert (Eliza Wright) Ball Hughes."  Maybe there are two versions of the paintings.  They may have different labels on the back sides.  No other references to Eliza using the name Elizabeth have been found so far.

10/1/2008 Update:

    I'm not convinced that there are two of each portrait by Trumbull.  The Smithsonian American Art Museum's online Art Inventories Catalog on SIRIS has only one listing for Mrs. Robert Ball Hughes portrait by Trumbull.  There are two listings for Robert Ball Hughes portrait by Trumbull on SIRIS, one shows Frederick Rudolf Brown of Wilmington, DE as the owner and the other listing shows Frederick R. Brown, Jr. (his son) of Ridgefield, CT as the owner.  We know that Frederick Rudolf Brown, Jr. inherited a portrait of Robert Ball Hughes by Trumbull from his father, Frederick Rudolf Brown because it's still in the Brown family.  Sizer's book only shows one portrait of each sitter.

Please Help

    Do you know more about the provenance of this painting starting with the Ball Hughes family, who is the current owner of Mrs. Robert Ball Hughes portrait, and if there were second copies of both Ball Hughes portraits?


last update 2/20/2010

For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2010


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