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2024 Summer Fine Art & Antiques (Day 1)

Sat, Jul 6, 2024 09:00AM EDT
Lot 165

Maria Howard Weeden W/C Portrait of a Man

Estimate: $4,800 - $5,200

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Maria Howard Weeden (Alabama, 1846-1905) watercolor on card portrait depicting the head and shoulders of an African American man with white hair and white beard, in a white collared shirt with blue coat. His head and gaze are slightly oriented to his left. Circa 1900. Signed "Howard Weeden," lower left. Framed under glass in a molded woodgrain frame. Sight - 8" H x 6" W. Sheet - 9" H x 7" W. Frame - 14 1/2" H x 12 1/2" W. Note: this painting descended in the family of Elizabeth Overton Lea (daughter of Judge John Overton) and was found inside her diary, although since she died in 1890, the painting was likely owned by one of her children, not her. Weeden is known to have painted at least one freed slave at the Overton's home, Traveller's Rest. His name was Claiborne Hines. 

Biography: Maria Howard Weeden was born in 1847 in Huntsville, Alabama, the youngest of six siblings. She showed artistic talent at an early age and was encouraged by her mother, who took her to study with William Frye, a well-known Southern portrait painter living in Huntsville at the time. She also studied art at the Huntsville Female Seminary. However, Weeden’s family was financially ruined in the wake of the Civil War and she was unable to pursue more formal training or visit places like Europe to find subject matter. As Martha Severens writes in “150 Years of Watercolor,” “Her sitters were generally members of her community who were former slaves serving as cooks, nannies, and gardeners. At a time when many artists were caricaturing African Americans, Weeden preferred to render more dignified and uplifting portraits. After visiting the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where she encountered many caustic images of the Uncle Remus variety, she resolved to pursue a different direction. She later recalled: ‘Then and there I awoke to the realization that right around me was a subject of supremest artistic interest -- the old ex-slave, who henceforth became theme for my muse and model for my brush.’”

Weeden did not use her first name on her works, preferring to sign them “Howard Weeden.” Her childhood home in Huntsville is now the Weeden House Museum and contains many of her works. Most of her subjects never commissioned these portraits, so she never found great commercial success. She published four books, including "Bandanna Ballads" (1899), which was used in the production of the classic American movie "Gone With the Wind" as reference for the costumes of the slaves. She painted frequently in the Nashville area as a result of her friendship with Elizabeth Fraser Price, daughter of Dr. George Price, who founded the Nashville College for Young Ladies. Price exhibited and sold Weeden’s work in her Nashville music studio, and Weeden also sold paintings at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition and at a reception held in her honor by the Nashville Art Club. One of her best known commissions was in Robertson County: in the 1890s the Washington family of Wessyngton Plantation hired Weeden to paint portraits of several former slaves.


Overall good condition. Faint acid burn 1" from edge on all sides from previous framing; tiny inclusion speck near subject's right ear; tiny black stain upper left; faint acid line or errant mark top center; a few other faint lines and scuffs to background. Inscriptions en verso relating to previous framing.

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