Simmins--William Berczy

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Introduction

William Berczy
Born in Wallerstein, Germany, 10 December 1744
Died in New York, New York, 05 February 1813


Woolsey Family

Self-Portrait, 1790
Berczy was multi-talented. Born in Saxony; worked in Europe as an architect, artist, writer; came to Canada as head of group of German settlers bound for upstate New York. Settled instead in York, in 1794 (cofounder); became known as a gentleman-painter. Already by 1804 business forced him to move to Mtl. in 1808 to Quebec (where he paints portrait of Woolsey Family) Dies New York 1813



1991 National Gallery exhibition showed extent to which he was part of European art traditions, e.g., "conversation" portraits


/>Portrait of Joseph Brant (1742-1807)

Mohawk chief, principal chief of the Six Nations Indians (one of Iroquois confederacy). After leading his Indians of the British side in the Seven Years' War and the American Revolution he brought them to a reserve set aside for them on the Grand River

his portrait was painted by Romney in 1787 during a trip to England

for Brant portrait: Berczy had visited Joseph Brant, in 1794, and painted his portrait in watercolor in 1797. Ten years later painted oil version




Woolsey Family, 1808

perhaps best-known portrait. painted during year when Berczy in Quebec, from July 1808 to July 1809

Generically defined as a "conversation piece"?that is, a painting, usually not of large dimensions, which represents two or more identifiable sitters in attitudes implying that they are conversing or communicating with each other informally, against a background reproduced in detail. (Cf to Eckersberg (Danish), or Sablet (French).)

Subject: eight people and a dog -- John Williama Woolsey (1767-1852), a Quebec merchant of Irish origin (NB inscription on collar of dog). From inscription on back of the painting we know that Berczy painted the eight portraits at a cost of 10 pounds each, and that "the dog brador was added without Cost." (To give meaning to amount: family paid only L55 for annual rent of their residence)

W, b. Ste Foy, then in his 40s. Wife FC, as his father's had been

IDs: grandmother
Mrs. Julie Woolsey (with child John Bryan on lap)
John stands behind chair
Benjamin Lemoine, beau-frère, sitting by window
the childrens' uncle

the four children: William Henry (holds dog); William Darley (with book); Eleonara (with hoop and doll); and baby John

description from Berczy of progress, 1808:

"I spent this afternoon after dinner with the Woolsey family, whom I assembled together at their house so that I could examine the group closely. After correcting the composition of my rought sketch, I spent the evening with William at their house...Today I began to trace my family painting on to the canvas...and the rest of the week I shall devote entirely to the Woolsely family and to my chess player. But especially, I long to see my eight figures on canvas, it is a painting which pleases me. To proceed quickly, I have nearly finished draing the correct outlines for each figure on paper, all of them in proportion, which I shall shade in as preliminary sketches after racing them onto the canvas. Many of the parts, especially the sketches of the clothing, I shall try to finish at the first opportunity; having the skethces sorted out before me, they will come to me with that much more spirit and clarity." (Cited in Landmarks, p. 108)

LS visible to outside is nuns' gardens of the nearby Hôtel Dieu of Quebec

note geometric basis to painting: vertical division into four distinct zones

useful also to give idea of Regency architectural interiors