American Artist: Henry Williams
Early American Gentleman of Boston,
Fashionably Attired with a High Collar and Ornate Cravat Pin
by Henry Williams (1787-1830)
1 7/8 x 2 3/8 inches (sight)
watercolor on ivory; housed in a gilt metal foliate pendant frame
About the Artist: Little is known of Henry Williams' origins, other than that he was born in Boston in 1787. It is, likewise, not known where he received his training as an artist. Some authors erroneously claim that Williams worked in various cities along the East Coast. Research of original source material reveals, however, that he only ever lived and worked in Boston, with the exception of a brief visit to Portland, Maine in July 1826. Williams first appeared in Boston city directories in 1806 (at the age of 19), when he was listed as a limner on Market St. In the 1807 directory, he was listed as a miniature painter and artist working at the Columbian Museum on Tremont St. It was there that he met the acquaintance of fellow miniaturist William M. S. Doyle (who owned and operated the museum in partnership with Daniel Bowen), and the two began an eight year collaboration. Williams and Doyle worked together through 1815; and many works exist that are jointly signed by the two artists. (Doyle being 19 years older than Williams, one might assume that it was the older Doyle who took the younger Williams under his wings; but it was Williams, in fact, who was considered the more accomplished artist of the two.) Collaboration with Doyle aside, Williams advertised his services independently in Boston newspapers regularly from 1806 through 1826. In 1814, at the age of 27, Williams published Elements of Drawing, a teaching manual for aspiring artists that included 26 copperplate engraved examples of various drawing techniques. Works by Williams were exhibited at the Boston Athenæum from 1828 to 1831 (a year after his death), but it is supposed that these were older works that were submitted for exhibition by Williams' wife (Cecile Charlotte Williams née Le Mercier, 1786-1850), as there is no evidence that he painted after 1826. In addition to painting miniature portraits in watercolor on ivory, Williams is known to have executed full-sized portrait in oil on canvas, pastel portraits, silhouettes, copperplate engravings and portraits in wax. In the 1820s, he regularly advertised his services as a painter of the dead and noted his unique method of casting a face mask that he would use as a model. Separately from art, Williams was also a self-professed doctor of electricity, also referred to as a medical electrician. (Medical electricity was a popular "science" in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when proponents believed that electrical currents could speed the healing of wounds and aid in the regeneration of muscle after injuries.) Williams died in Boston in 1830, at the age of 43. He is known to have works in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City), the Smithsonian Art Museum (Washington, D.C.), the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, Massachusetts) the Worcester Art Museum (Worcester, Massachusetts), the Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, Ohio), and the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Connecticut). Listed by Benezit, Barratt & Zabar (pages 114-116), Blättel (pages 964, 965), Bolton (page 173), Bolton & Wehle (page 112), Fielding (pages 1,014, 1,015), Johnson (pages 232, 233) and Schidlof (pages 882, 883).
Other portraits in the Tormey-Holder Collection by Henry Williams
(click photo for larger view and additional information):
Early American Gentleman of Boston
Wearing His Hair 'en Queue'