: views from the Hill

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Keeping Up With The Joneses

Back in May 2002, I wrote a column for Computer Bits (cleverly titled Magritte, Monet, Matisse and more ... ), which covered Web resources and tools for people searching for art work and other images on the Web.

As an example of what was possible I talked about the Joneses, a pair of old-timers whose portraits hang in our living room.

We knew how the Joneses were related to us. Their only child had married John Wesley Brittan. Mary Alista Jones and John Wesley Brittan had had a son, Nathaniel Jones Brittan, who married Isabella (Belle) Fallon (daughter of the notorious Thomas Fallon). NJ Brittan and Belle had three children. Their daughter Carmelita Brittan was his nibs' grandmother. The Joneses, therefore, were his nibs' great-great-great-grandparents. (I think I got that right.)

What we hadn't been able to figure out for years was who the artists were who painted the portraits. All we had to work on were scribbles on the backs of the portraits.

E 7 [7? -ed.] Coe, Artist / 1829 -- it looked like to us -- and

FSpencer, Artist / 1827

But who were Coe and Spencer and why had they painted the portraits of the Joneses?

We tried for years to track down the artists using art catalogs and art encyclopedias, and, eventually, the Web. Resources on the Web continued to improve and finally, in 2002, we found information about the artists and identified them as Elias Van Arsdale Coe (AKA Elias V. Coe) and Frederick R. Spencer.

E.V. Coe's biographical information mentioned that he had married his cousin Phebe Burt in 1821 and had died in 1843 in Warwick, Orange Co., NY.

Bingo! Mary Jones' maiden name was Burt and she was from Warwick, Orange Co., as well.

At the time Spencer painted the portrait of Jones (1827), biographies say he was "an itinerant portraitist, traveling to Utica and Albany in search of commissions." Jones, at the time, was in the Legislature in Albany.

When I wrote the article, the paintings were up on the wall and were difficult to bring down and check the inscriptions on the back. I'd misremembered the dates. Correcting that information today, the Spencer portrait was painted in 1827 and the Coe in 1829.

The paintings are intended to hang side by side:

What's up with all this?

Well, the Web's a wonder. I wrote the article in 2002 and Google makes it available to anyone searching for information on Coe or Spencer.

Last year I got an e-mail from someone in Warwick who was interested in the painting by EV Coe and wanted further information. Last week someone who had bought a Spencer at auction sent me an e-mail. He'd found my Computer Bits article and thought I'd be interested in information about some Spencers recently donated to the Museum of the City of New York.

I'd promised the person in Warwick that we'd take some proper pictures of the Coe portrait, but the pictures never turned out right because the painting was on the wall and the lighting was dreary. I promised her photographs of the painting when we took it down to move up to San Francisco, but we still haven't moved it.

Last month, though, we took down the paintings when we put up the tree and today we rehung them, but not before I'd taken some pictures.

So, for the interested party in Warwick, some closeups of E.V. Coe's portrait of Mary Burt Jones:

and for the guy who sent me a note last week, some closeups of Frederick R. Spencer's portrait of Nathaniel Jones:


The Web is a wonder.

Update: Swapped in a different link for Thomas Fallon. The new link is a Google seach for /"thomas fallon" "san jose"/ which not only eliminates all those other Thomas Fallons in the world but also gives a pretty good idea of the controversy swirling around the gent in the quaint ville of San Jose.

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