Core Holdings of the Tormey-Holder Collection: William Lewis
Jacksonian Era New England
Gentleman Wearing a Brown Coat
by William Lewis (fl. 1806-1837)
1 3/4 x 2 1/4 inches (sight)
watercolor on ivory; currently unframed
Sadly, this Lewis miniature has some condition issues that leave it subordinate to the Lewis miniature of a New England Gentleman in Formal Attire, shown below. It has suffered a vertical hairline crack that required professional conservation, it has slight curling on its left side, and there is loss of paint on its far right edge. It is also missing its protective frame. Despite these flaws, however, the portrait is handsomely painted and, more importantly, it bears Lewis’ signature. Lewis rarely signed his work, making this miniature a rare find; and it is for this reason it was considered an important addition to the collection.
About the Artist: Miniature portraits by William Lewis have a uniquely early American charm to them and remain highly collectible by both art collectors and collectors of early Americana. It should be noted that there is debate in some circles as to whether there might have actually been two miniaturists by the same name of William Lewis, living and working in New England during the same period. It is our view, however, that there was only one William Lewis, evidenced by a number of circumstantial facts and, more importantly, by the similarities of works attributed to the "two" Lewises -- see biographical article for details. It has been maintained for years that William Lewis was born in Salem, Massachusetts, but research has not been able to prove this. The dates and circumstances of both his birth and death, in fact, remain unknown. He first appeared as a painter in Portland, Maine, evidenced by newspaper advertisements in which he promoted his services as a painter and offered private drawing lessons. It was not until six years later, in 1812, that he appeared in Salem, where he published similar newspaper ads. In 1812, he is also recorded as having married a Dorothy Skinner in Salem. Two years later, in 1814, Lewis is next seen in Burlington, Vermont, where he appears to have spent the summer painting portraits of well monied residents and visitors who were escaping the heat of New England cities. Thereafter, ads by Lewis did not appear again until 1819, at which point he was in Boston. Evidenced by entries in Boston city directories of 1821-1830, Lewis remained in Boston for at least a decade. He did, however, continue to make working trips to popular New England travel destinations -- he was in Newport, Rhode Island from October through December 1823; he was in in Portland, Maine during the summer of 1826; and he was back in Portland again during the summer of 1829. The last of Lewis' newspaper ads appeared in Boston in 1832. No records exist of how he promoted his services thereafter. He is known, however, to have continued painting after 1832, evidenced by one of the miniatures by Lewis in the Tormey-Holder Collection that bears the date of 1836. He is, likewise, known to have exhibited works at both the Boston Athenæum and the Boston Mechanics’ Association as late as 1837. No trace of Lewis can be found after 1837. Listed by Barratt and Zabar (page 124), Blättel (pages 582, 583), Fielding (page 566) and Johnson (pages 145, 146).
Other portraits in the Tormey-Holder Collection by William Lewis
(click photos for larger views and additional information):
Jacksonian Era New England
Gentleman in Formal Attire
Jacksonian Era New England Gentleman
Wearing a Yellow, Double Breasted, Shawl Collar Vest