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Charles V. Bond

American, c. 1825 - 1866

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Scattered references to Michigan academic portraitist Charles V. Bond have come to light, but his basic biography remains sketchy. Bond's place of birth, Rutland, Vermont, was discovered on a passport application of 1856 that lists his age as 29. An earlier application of 1844 gives his age as 20, and a ship's passenger list of 1848 gives his age as 22. These inconsistencies make it impossible to assign his year of birth with any certainty other than around 1825. His father may have been Eliel Bond, a hotel keeper in Eaton County, Michigan, or perhaps the proprietor of a road house near Hamtramck driving park, a nineteenth-century Detroit race course. Bond appears to have shown early promise as a portrait painter. An 1840 account of a visit to his studio attests to his "precocious genius in portrait painting" at the age of fifteen and anticipates that he will "rival our Copeley [sic], Stewart [sic], and Harden [sic]." Supporters of the young artist, impressed by his ability, reportedly raised enough money to send him to Italy.

Bond appears in 1844 and 1845 in Boston, where his name is listed in city and business directories. He surfaces again in Boston in 1848 and is included in the Boston directories through 1851, although curiously he does not appear in the 1850 census of that city. Among his subjects during these years was Wendell Phillips, the well-known abolitionist, whose portrait Bond painted in 1849. A series of eight letters from the artist to prominent Boston industrialist and philanthropist Amos A. Lawrence reveals that Bond was also in New York City in 1850 and 1851, and in Brooklyn in 1851. In a letter from Brooklyn dated 25 August 1851, Bond suggests that Lawrence consider commissioning copies of Old Masters or original paintings, "for I am going to Europe again."

Bond spent the next two years in Michigan, renting a studio in Detroit at 10 Fireman's Hall and advertising in the 1852 and 1853 business directories. A large exhibition at Fireman's Hall in 1853 included nineteen works by him, testifying to his popularity and standing in Detroit art circles. Several were portraits of leading citizens, including a former state attorney general. While noted primarily as a portraitist, Bond is known to have tried his hand at scenes of mythology, allegory, genre, and landscape, although no examples of these survive. The painting at the National Gallery is his only known still life.

Bond apparently moved to Chicago in 1855; he appears in the local city directory in that year and again in 1857 and 1858. Though his name is not listed in 1856, the inscription on the reverse of the National Gallery painting indicates he was there for at least part of the year. According to Milwaukee city directories of 1858 and 1859, Bond then had a studio in that city at the corner of E. Water and Wisconsin Streets and boarded at Newall House. That the artist lived in boarding houses in Milwaukee and elsewhere and moved frequently may mean that he was not married; the only evidence of relatives is a reference to illness in his family in one of his letters to Lawrence. Bond is last recorded in Louisville, Kentucky, city directories in 1864. This biography originally concluded with the following sentence: The date and place of his death have not been discovered. However, in 2020 someone contacted the NGA with information from two death notices for Bond. The newspaper notices identified Bond as an artist, documented his death in Newark, New Jersey, on 18 April 1866, and stated that he was “formerly of Louisville, Kentucky.”[1]

[This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

[1] “Died,” New Jersey Advertiser (18 April 1866): 2, and “Died,” New York World (19 April 1866): 5; see copies and e-mails of 14 April 2020, in NGA curatorial files. The researcher who kindly shared the death notices with NGA is working on filling the gaps in Bond’s biography. His great-great-grandmother was painted as a child by Bond in Detroit in 1852. The portrait stayed in the family until 2014, when it was sold at auction.

Artist Bibliography

Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 45 (January 1912): 415.
Burroughs, Clyde H. "Painting and Sculpture in Michigan." Michigan Historical Magazine 20 (Autumn 1936): 395-409.
Gibson, Arthur H. Artists of Early Michigan. Detroit, 1975.
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: 20-22.

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