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The Gansevoort Limner

American, active 1730/1745

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The designation "Gansevoort Limner" was given to the unknown painter of a stylistically coherent group of portraits depicting members of the Gansevoort family. The majority of his sitters were children, and several of his portraits are inscribed in either Dutch or Latin.

Mary Black has identified The Gansevoort Limner as Pieter Vanderlyn, which some scholars accept. No signed portraits by Vanderlyn exist, however, and over the years controversy has continued over Vanderlyn's identity and oeuvre. Local tradition originally ascribed a number of The Gansevoort Limner portraits to Vanderlyn; descendants of the subjects believed him to be the creator of their family portraits, and the Kingston, New York, Senate House Historical Site owns several portraits that have been recorded as Vanderlyn's work. Confusion arose with the publication of articles ascribing a completely different series of works to Vanderlyn's hand. A group of portraits are now given to The Schuyler or Aetatis Suae Limner. Additional attributions were also made, all based on a "key picture," the portrait of Mrs. Petrus Vas, which John Vanderlyn, Pieter's grandson, reportedly represented to his biographer as a work by Pieter. However, these attributions are not documented and rest on uncertain, oral tradition.

Black first isolated a group of eighteen portraits by an artist identified only as The Gansevoort Limner. Later she published her conclusion that The Gansevoort Limner was Pieter Vanderlyn, based on the fact that a group of Kingston portraits by The Gansevoort Limner (including several from the Kingston Senate House Historical Site) were originally attributed by local tradition to Vanderlyn. She discovered a manuscript by Vanderlyn in handwriting that appeared to match seven of the eight inscriptions appearing on Gansevoort Limner paintings. This Kingston group and the National Gallery's portraits form a coherent stylistic group and are clearly by the same hand. Black disputed the attributions of the portrait of Mrs. Petrus Vas to Vanderlyn. Another family tradition held that a companion portrait of Dominie Petrus Vas was lost in the 1777 Kingston fire. Black speculated that the lost male portrait was the one painted by Vanderlyn, rather than the female one, engendering the string of mistaken attributions that followed. Black's discovery about Vanderlyn's signature is intriguing, but some scholars dispute the validity of attributions based on matching scripts, arguing that eighteenth-century handwriting was of a standard style.

Until further evidence comes to light, it cannot be said with complete certainty that The Gansevoort Limner is Pieter Vanderlyn. If this identification is correct, The Gansevoort Limner was born in Holland about 1687, coming to New York from Curaçao around 1718. He traveled frequently between Albany and Kingston until 1777, then moved to Shawangunk, New York. He died there in 1778. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

Artist Bibliography

Harris, Charles X. "Pieter Vanderlyn, Portrait Painter." New-York Historical Society Quarterly Bulletin 5 (October 21): 59-73.
Hastings, Mrs. Russel. "Pieter Vanderlyn, A Hudson River Portrait Painter (1687-1778)." Antiques 42 (December 1942): 296-299.
Flexner, James Thomas. "Pieter Vanderlyn, Come Home." Antiques 75 (June 1959): 546-549, 580.
Black, Mary C. "The Gansevoort Limner." Antiques 96 (November 1969): 738-744.
Black, Mary C. "Pieter Vanderlyn and Other Limners of the Upper Hudson." In American Painting to 1776: A Reappraisal. Edited by Ian M. G. Quimby. Charlottesville, Virginia, 1971: 234-241.
Black, Mary C. "Pieter Vanderlyn, c. 1687-1778." In Lipman and Armstrong 1980, 41-45.
Chotner, Deborah, with contributions by Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn. American Naive Paintings. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 142-143.

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