Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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@ElizaBTweetin: September 9, 1872: Portrait Sitting

Posted on September 6, 2013

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary, Sept. 6-11, 1872

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary, Sept. 6-11, 1872

Eliza Wheaton began sitting for her portrait with Boston artist James Harvey Young (1839-1918) today.  This was a return to the artist, who had painted a posthumous portrait of her husband, Laban Morey Wheaton, in 1865. At a Trustees’ meeting that year, during which Mrs. Wheaton forgave a debt of $3500 owed by the Seminary to her late husband, the Trustees decided to procure a portrait of Laban Morey “for the use of the Institution.”

Laban Morey Wheaton portrait

Laban Morey Wheaton, by James Harvey Young, 1866

Although Mrs. Wheaton’s usually meticulous cashbooks do not include an entry for the commission, a receipt for payment signed by J. Harvey Young, dated “Boston 25 June 1866,” reveals that he had completed the portrait, based on a daguerreotype, within a year.  A note in Mrs. Wheaton’s hand indicates that the portrait cost $225.00 and the frame $27.00. She presented the painting to the Seminary on 11 July 1866, at the commencement exercises.  In a resolution, the Trustees expressed surprise that the portrait was a gift:

This beautiful Specimen of art & excellent likeness of the deceased is an unexpected & most grateful offering to the Institution and is a fresh testimony of the never ceasing regard of the giver for the interests of an Institution so fondly cherished & most nobly patronized by her lamented husband.

Five years later, in December 1871, after voting “that it seems desirable and proper that a portrait of Mrs. E. B. Wheaton be procured for the Institution, if agreeable to her,” the Trustees sent a delegation to “request that I should sit for my Portrait…to be placed beside my husband’s.”

Eliza probably was grateful to have a matching portrait painted before she began to look older than her husband!  In 1869 her upper teeth had been removed and replaced with a plate, and she had been so tired in the spring of 1872 that she renewed a course of electrical treatments and began drinking spring water. Young visited Norton to reacquaint himself with Laban Morey’s portrait before beginning Eliza’s. She traveled to Boston to sit for her portrait at least five times in September. Mrs. Wheaton paid $250.00 for the portrait and $35.00 for the frame. The portraits were hung in the Drawing Room of the Boarding House as soon as they were received.

Eliza Baylies Wheaton, by J.H. Young, 1872

Eliza Baylies Wheaton, by J.H. Young, 1872

Eliza Wheaton is seated in a manner similar to her husband but facing right, with her hands crossed in her lap. Although Mrs. Wheaton appears pious and austere in her black dress,  lace collar pinned with a jet mourning brooch, spectacles, and hair pulled back into a bun, Young captured Eliza’s character in her eyes, which engage the viewer from any angle. Note that her portrait, painted from life, lacks the "halo" affect of Laban Morey's; those knowledgeable about portrait iconography would have recognized his as a posthumous creation.

These portraits are displayed together in the Archives Reading Room.

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