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November Tea Party Winners: Carrie Fancett Pagels' copy of The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides Collection - Debbie Curto, Christmas tea - Andrea Stephens, Golden Tea body wash Joy Ellis, lighthouse earrings -- Pegg's SIL from Lake Ann and Perrianne Askew, Pegg Thomas's Leather journal - Shelia Hall, and Writing Prompts book goes to - Connie Porter Saunders

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Tale of a Colonial Portrait - The Most Hated Man in Boston



Upon a recent visit to the world reknown Colby College Museum of Art a prominent painting held my attention. Viewed first between the exquisitely carved Georgian door pediment and columns, the nearly life size portraiture was easily recognized as remdered by the skilled hand of colonial artist John Singleton Copley.


Every portrait has a story, and as I approached the portrait my curiosity grew. The man depicted, noticibly of some importance, was Benjamin Hallowell, c. 1764. His surname piqued my attention further as Hallowell is the name of a local town here in  Central Maine, where I live just a stone’s throw away from the college. The town’s name is attributed to his father, Benjamin Hallowell, a Boston merchant who was one of the Kennebec Proprietors - men who set off from Plymouth, Massachusetts to establish trade with the Indians in early colonial times. I did a little research to learn more about the man in the painting and how it was acquired by the art museum.

Benjamin Hallowell, formerly a noted Captain in the British navy, commissioned Copley to paint the portrait soon after he was assigned Comptroller of Customs in Boston. He hung the portrait in his stately home in Boston. As tensions rose in pre-revolutionary days due to the angst of the colonists over the Stamp Act, which Hallowell, a Tory, helped enforce. A riot of disguised and armed patriots entered his home, intoxicateded themselves with liquor from Hallowell’s cellar, and proceeded to plunder the mansion. The mob slashed and pierced the painting, in effigy, of Hallowell riled by their indignation over taxation without representation imposed by the Bristish Crown.


Captain Hallowell and his family fled to Nova Scotia, and later London, leaving their belongings behind - including the hastily rolled up canvas oil painting. The portrait remained in the Hallowell family for generations until it was donated in 1978 to the combined ownership of Colby and Bowdoin Colleges who share exhibiting the exquisitely restored painting. To gaze upon the portrait one would never realize the remarkable history of its provinance, or that the charming man depicted was once considered the most hated man in Boston.

12 comments:

  1. It's amazing that they could restore it after all those years and it doesn't look like it was ever damaged.

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    1. I know it! If I hadn’t looked it up, I’d have never known. It’s a wonderful portrait.

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  2. Very interesting Carla.
    Blessings, Tina

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    1. Thanks, Mrs. Tina. Always nice to see you here!

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  3. Interesting. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. It’s fun learning about these historical tidbits.

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  4. oooh! that's a great story! And I love how they've framed that relatively small portrait with such impressive architecture.

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    1. You know this storyteller and history nerd had to do some investigating! That door casing and pediment was spectacular. It’s an optical illusion though, as the painting is quite large and a focal point of the room. You can contrast the size to the portion of the painting on the wall as seen to the right of Hallowell.

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  5. An amazing renovation to the portrait. I love the carved Georgian door frame which also frames the painting.

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