William E. Winner
Oil on canvas, 36 1/8 × 28 7/8 inches
Signed and inscribed at lower center: “W. E. WINNER./PORTRAIT PAINTER/No.
35 No. 2nd St./Phila”
Inscribed in ink on stretcher verso: “WINNER, W. E./JAMES PANCOURT OF BORDEN-TOWN,
William E. Winner was probably born in Philadelphia. Little is known of his
early life until be began to exhibit at the Artists’ Fund Society in 1836.
He exhibited portraits and genre, historical, and religious subjects at the
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from then until 1869, and from 1878 to
1881; he was elected a member of the group in 1860. The Academy’s exhibition
records indicate that Winner occasionally painted the human figures in seascapes
by George Robert Bonfield (see plate 9)
and landscapes by Isaac L. Williams
(1817–1895). Winner was in Charlestown, South Carolina, in December 1848, where
a local newspaper reported that he was painting portraits and exhibiting his Christ
Restoring the Daughters of Jairus (location unknown). He was elected
an honorary member of the National Academy of Design in 1850, where he exhibited
from 1844 to 1875.
Winner, who served in the 95th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the
Civil War, was also a member of the Philadelphia Society of Artists and exhibited
at the Apollo Association and the American Art Union in New York and at the
Boston Athenaeum. One of his best-known works is Crazy Nora (c. 1860–65,
Atwater Kent Museum, formerly Historical Society of Pennsylvania), a small
full-length portrait of an eccentric woman who was a familiar sight on the
streets of Philadelphia. Winner died in Philadelphia.
This portrait probably dates from 1844, when Winner listed his address in
Artists’ Fund Society exhibition catalogue as “Second above Market,” thus matching
the “35 No. 2nd St.” given in the inscription. The inscription on the reverse
identifies the sitter as James Pancourt of Bordentown, yet there is no record
that such a person existed. This may in fact be James Pancoast, whose name
appears in the 1840 New Jersey Burlingtown County and Chesterfield Township
census. Records at the International Genealogical Index suggest that Pancoast
was born in Philadelphia around 1773, one of four children born to Samuel and
Sarah Stephens Pancoast.1 The New Jersey State Archives in Trenton has a will
and inventory (no. 15426C) of a James Pancoast of Bordentown that was filed
in March, 1848. The document indicated that he had been in the lumber business,
and was fairly wealthy. His estate, which was valued at $6,623.76, was divided
among his three children (one of whom was described as being in a “state of
alienation of mind”). The will mentions that his wife’s name was Sarah, and
the New Jersey State Archives has a record that states a James Pancoast married
Sarah Wright, daughter of Israel and Alice Wright, on Dec. 13, 1797 in Bordentown.
It is quite plausible that these documents refer to the same person, and that
this is the portly and elderly gentleman who appears in Winner’s portrait.
Copyright ©2005 The Schwarz Gallery