They say there are several deaths. The death of your body. The death of the last person who could remember you when you were alive. And, the last moment anyone speaks your name.
I think we could add to this list, perhaps near but not at the end, the death that occurs when your actual appearance is forgotten.
I recently came across two reviews of a show of paintings by the late-19th and early-20th century artist, Cecilia Beaux.
In 1904, Beaux had a show at Durand-Ruel in New York and it was well received.
Scanning the page of one of the reviews, I read with both surprise and interest that one of the subjects of her portraits was Mrs. Martina Louisa (Condict) Brandegee, mother of Edward Deshon Brandegee.
Lightning bolt! This was an ancestor I knew we had no image of. No one alive today had any idea what she had looked like. So… Could the painting be found? Would it match up with any of the nameless, unidentified photos we possess?
I pored over the remainder of the first review of the show for clues, and then found another.
In addition to the reviews, with a little more online looking, I also found the brochures and supporting material handed out to visitors.
Determined to follow up, I asked an older relative if he had ever heard of such a portrait. “No.” Another relative. “No.” Then, I asked my aunt, and she gave me a definitive “Maybe.”
With iPhones as flashlights, we ascended to the third floor of an old family house, and halfway down a hallway, concealed in shadow, there she was.
A closer look…
This had to be it!
But… one detail was glaringly off. The reviewer above had mentioned the sitter’s hands: one hand holding the arm of the chair, the other a pince nez.
This woman has both hands clasped in her lap. And they are not beautifully painted. Hmm.
What about a signature?
Just below, black on a white background, is a known reference for Cecilia Beaux’s signature on a canvas. Beneath that, ochre on a dark green background, the signature, such as it is, on this canvas.
The only thing I can surmise from this is that, based on the gender and age of the sitter, the general pose, the “cap and fichu,” the signature, and the location of the physical canvas, this is indeed the Cecilia Beaux painting in question. But, it has somehow been altered. By whom? And when? I don’t as yet know.
The photograph shown below was found in a barn not far from the house in which the painting above is located, and for years we didn’t know who it could be. Likely a Brandegee, or a Pratt, or a Weld. But that was as far as we could really guess. The simple, utterly simple, fact of who this was had been lost. And who would bring it back?
Standing in a hallway of an old family house in Boston, I felt I had my answer.
The woman in the photo was, indeed, Martina Louisa (Condict) Brandegee, daughter of Dr. Lewis Condict and Martina (Elmendorf) Condict, wife of Rev. John J. Brandegee, and mother of Edward Deshon Brandegee.
Welcome home, Great-great-grandmother!