American Artist: Thomas Campbell
Jacksonian Era Baby with Brown Eyes
by Thomas Campbell
1 7/8 x 2 1/2 inches (sight)
watercolor on ivory; housed under glass in an octagonally-shaped
gilt metal case with an embossed foliate design and engine turned pattern
to the reverse. Also to the reverse is a glazed compartment containing locks of hair.
Depicted is an infant with brown eyes, floating amongst clouds. One might assume that the image is a mourning portrait, but Campbell is known to have painted other, very much living subjects in a similar manner. (A good example of this is a miniature by Campbell of Eliza Griffin (1821-1896), a holding of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art since 1926.)
In addition to portrait miniatures, Campbell is known to have painted full-sized portraits and landscapes. He also worked as a lithographer and, most interestingly, dabbled in the sale of “hygiene medicines”. He is recorded as having lived in Baltimore, MD from 1833 to 1835. Thereafter, from 1836 to 1847, he moved between Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH.
What little research that has been published about Campbell suggests that he was born in 1790 and died in 1858; but these dates have proven suspect, given the following. A newspaper article published in Cincinnati, in 1841, referred to him as “a young artist of great present excellence and greater promise.”(*1) It is hard to imagine such words being used to describe a 51-year old man (which he would have been in 1841, had he really been born in 1790). Similarly, he is mentioned in a book by Charles Cist, published in 1851, in which he is referred to as “a miniature painter, who commenced here [Cincinnati] in 1840, and has since deceased.”(*2) That would place his death at least 7 years before 1858. An 1858 newspaper obituary does, however, report the death of Campbell’s wife, Mary, who died in Louisville on August 20, 1858. In the obituary, she is referred to as the “widow of the late Thomas Campbell, artist.”(*3) To date, we have found no obituary for Thomas Campbell himself.
(*1) "Cincinnati Daily Gazette", Cincinnati, Ohio, April 1, 1841 edition, Vol. XXXVII, No. 1,919, page 4.
(*2) Cist, Charles (1851). "Sketches and Statistics of Cincinnati in 1851", Wm. H. Moore & Co., Cincinnati, Ohio, pages 122, 123.
(*3) "Louisville Daily Courier", Louisville, Kentucky, August 21, 1858 edition, Vol. 27, No. 45, page 2.
A view of the reverse side of the portrait miniature's case
A view of the portrait outside its case, allowing its colors and
brush strokes to be seen more clearly without the distortion or
reflection typically caused by the glass lens of the miniature's case
(Click + symbol above for an enlarged view)