American Artist: Lewis Towson Voigt
Mid Nineteenth Century American Lady
(Only Partially Identified as "Miss Hannah Mc-----"),
Painted in Nags Head, North Carolina
by Lewis Towson Voigt (1816-1881)
(signed obverse, lower right, "Voigt / Sep. 1845";
also signed on card inserted in the miniature's case)
1 7/8 x 2 3/8 inches (sight)
watercolor on ivory; housed under glass in an
octagonally-shaped gilt metal case
Upon opening this portrait miniature's case, behind the ivory substrate of the portrait, a support card was found with the following inscription by the artist: "fs Hannah Mc----- / Painted by Lewis Towson Voig- / Nags Head / N. Carolina / Sept. 1845 / Price $15.00". (See photo below.) Unfortunately, the manner in which the card was trimmed has removed part of the subject's name. One can easily make out her first name, Hannah, but only the "Mc" of her surname is visible. One can also make out the last two letters of "Miss" before Hannah. (It was common in Georgian and early Victorian English to spell a double "s" as "fs".) It is interesting to note that the price of $15.00 that Voigt charged for his work in 1845 would be equivalent to $514 today. One imagines that the gilt metal case the miniature is housed in might have cost a similar sum (indicating how out of reach the art form would have been for many).
About the Artist: Lewis Towson Voigt (also referred to as Lewis Voight or Louis Voigt in some sources) was born on January 2, 1816, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the oldest of four children born to Johann Friedrich Voigt (1780-1829) and Sarah Heck (1790-1867). It is not known where or from whom he received his artistic training. He is known to have been active in Baltimore and other parts of Maryland between 1839 and 1845. In 1845 and 1846, he traveled through parts of North Carolina, where his presence was documented in both Raleigh and Nags Head. Thereafter, he migrated to New York City, where he remained for 20 years.
Like many artists of his day, Voigt was not exclusively a painter of portrait miniatures. He also painted full sized portraits in oil on canvas, and he created a prolific body of fashion drawings that were published in "Godey's Lady's Book" over a period of several years. He was also a talented author, having published a number of poems and other writings in various literary publications. (See an example of his writing below.) Relatively few portrait miniatures by Voigt are known to exist today. Only two are documented in the Frick Collection's digital archive (Frick Art Reference Library, New York, New York). One, dated September 1846, is in an octagonal format similar to the portrait of Miss Hannah.
Most interestingly, in the years 1864-1867, Voigt appeared in New York City directories as a physician (most likely meaning that he was a salesman or distributor of herbal medicinal remedies that were prolific in his day). In this regard, his career path -- from painter to writer to physician -- seems to have followed a similar route as that of Ebenezer Mack (1755-1826), a portrait miniature painter of a generation earlier who progressed from painter to writer to physician. Voigt's presence was last recorded in New York City in 1867. Thereafter, he retired to White Plains, New York, where he lived out the remainder of his days. He died at his residence in White Plains, on May 3, 1881, having remained a bachelor his entire life. His remains were interred beside his parents', at Woodward Hill Cemetery, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
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)
A view of the support card, found in the miniature's case,
behind the ivory substrate of the portrait
The following poem was written by Voigt in 1860, and published in 1863, in
"The Knickerbocker Monthly: A National Magazine of Literature, Art, Politics,
and Society", July 1863 edition, Vol. LXII, No. 1, New York, New York.
My Brother's Grave
-by Lewis Towson Voigt
This grass was gathered, brother! o'er thy breast,
Where 'earth to earth' thy loved, young form we gave,
When, ere the day-dawn, to their final rest
We bore thy ashes to that star-lit grave.
spring, since then, with buds and showers,
And verdurous summers, with their flowering bloom
And ample autumns' gorgeous, sunset hours
Have twined their wreaths of beauty round thy tomb.
And matin orisons o'er it have swept,
From choral warblers, through the vernal air,
And clustering stars their vesper dews have wept,
And hallowing moonlight held hushed vigil there.
And now the wintery winds wail wildly round,
In midnight requiems, and the drifting snows
Pile their mock-marble tablets o'er the mound
Where storms nor sunshine break thy deep repose.
There, rest in peace -- no more shall wasting pain
Pale the still beauty of that solemn brow;
Fear hath no more to dread, nor Hope to gain:
What are earth's woes to thee, thou slumber, now?
Thou slumbering now? and shall Revealing Light,
Piercing the pall that Death spread o'er their way --
'Those who in darkness sat' -- on our dim sight
Shine now feebler or less heavenward ray?
No! in that Light of
We mourn not, brother, o'er thy burial sod;
'Tis but the portal ushered thee to Heaven,
Thou crowned and shining with the smile of God!