American Artist: Ebenezer Mack
Federalist Era Gentleman
Wearing a Brown Coat
by Ebenezer Mack (1755-1826)
1 1/2 x 2 inches (sight)
watercolor on ivory; housed in a gilt metal pendant frame
Portraits by Mack typically feature a loosely stippled background. Examination under magnification reveals that such a background originally existed on this portrait of the early American gentleman wearing a brown coat. (Traces can be seen along the edges of the gentleman's coat and along the extreme edges of the ivory.) At some point, the miniature likely experienced moisture damage, and a conservator decided it was more practical to remove the remaining background rather than recreate it in damaged areas.
It has been suggested that, rather than being by Ebenezer Mack, this portrait miniature might instead be by Jacob Frymire (ca. 1770-1822). There are, indeed, some similarities in the works of Mack and Frymire, but we remain confident in the attribution of this miniature to Mack, as it bears many elements that are indicative of Mack's hand. This is particularly noticeable when comparing Mack's depiction of facial features, as can be seen in the closeup images below of four miniatures painted over a 15 year period. (Click the + sign for a larger view.) Note the similarly shaped eyes, the way eyelids are depicted, the consistent use of fine stipple on the faces, the similarly shaped chins, the use of shadowing below the mouths, and the fine, dark line separating the subjects' upper and lower lips.
About the Artist: Ebenezer Mack was born on September 23, 1755, in Hebron, Connecticut, a great grandson of Scottish immigrant John Mack (1653-1721). He served in the Revolutionary War, having enlisted in the Connecticut militia in May 1775, at the age of 19. Assigned to Capt. John Watson's company, in the 4th Connecticut Regiment, under command of Col. Benjamin Hinman. Took part in the invasion of British Quebec, where he was captured near Montreal, in September 1775, along with Col. Ethan Allen and 32 other men. Held by the British as a prisoner of war for 14 months, being transported between Quebec, England, Ireland, North Carolina, Halifax, and New York City. Ultimately escaped in April 1777, and returned home to Norfolk, Connecticut. Thereafter, he appeared first as an artist in 1780, in Boston, where he was recorded living with fellow miniature portrait painter Joseph Dunckerley. He was next recorded in Philadelphia where, from 1784-1789, he advertised regularly as a miniature painter. He then relocated to New York City, living near the family of his brother, Daniel Mack, Jr. (1760-1833). He lived the remainder of his life in New York City, working first as a miniature painter from 1790-1808, and thereafter, from 1809-1826, as a physician. He was also a published author, having penned Anatomy in Rhyme and The Cat-Fight: a Mock Heroic Poem. Died in New York City on July 26, 1826. Listed by Barratt and Zabar (page 62) and Blättel (pages 600, 601).
Other portraits in the Tormey-Holder Collection by Ebenezer Mack
(click photos for larger views and additional information):
Early American Lady Wearing
Feathers and Jewels in Her Hair
Late Eighteenth Century Gentleman, Wearing
a Blue Coat over a Gold-Colored Waistcoat
Federalist Era Gentleman
Wearing a Navy Blue Coat