Important American Paintings - September 2010
Oliver Tarbell Eddy
Portrait of a Young Girl, c. 1835
Oil on panel, 40 1/2 × 30 inches
Provenance: Descended in the family of the sitter.

RS 5692

Note: this item relates to a smaller composition depicting the same subject Young Girl with Butterfly by Oliver Tarbell Eddy. The following discussion relates to both works.

Oliver Tarbell Eddy was born in Greenbush, Vermont, the oldest son of inventor, printer, and engraver Isaac Eddy, who traced his ancestry back to the Mayflower. Although his father instructed him how to engrave on copper, Eddy evidently taught himself how to paint. He married Jane Maria Burger, daughter of the silversmith Thomas Burger, in Newburgh, New York, in 1822. Eddy was active as a portrait and miniature painter in New York City by 1826, and exhibited a portrait at the National Academy of Design the following year. He moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1831 and then to Newark in 1835. William H. Gerdts has suggested that he relocated to Newark because a distant relative, the Reverend Ansel Doane Eddy, was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church there.1 The artist was extremely successful in Newark and painted at least thirteen portraits of members of the family of a hat manufacturer named William Rankin. Eddy lived in Baltimore from 1842 to 1850, painting portraits and inventing a precursor to the typewriter. He lived in Philadelphia from 1850 until his death and was buried in Woodlands Cemetery.2 Gerdts characterized Eddy as "something of a Newark equivalent of [Henry] Inman in New York City"3 because he followed the period’s compositional conventions of portraiture. Nevertheless, the artist worked in a highly distinctive style characterized by a pronounced degree of naïveté. His ill-proportioned figures are generally stiff and wooden, set in self-conscious formal poses, and often possess an aura of haunting solemnity. Eddy consistently represented accessories such as floor coverings, furniture, windows draped with fringed curtains, and his sitters’ costumes in a meticulously detailed manner. He produced some large, complex multi-figure portraits, such as Children of William Rankin, Sr. (1838, Newark Museum), and Children of Mr. and Mrs. Israel Griffith (c. 1844, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore). The inscription on the edge of the original frame identifies the subject of this painting as Julia Andruss, a member of a prominent Newark family.4 Eddy must have painted this portrait sometime between 1835 and 1841, when he is known to have been active in Newark. The Newark directory for 1840–1841 lists six members of the Andruss family, five of whom lived on Washington Street near George W. Andruss’s factory for making molding planes for carpenters and furniture makers. This information conforms to Eddy’s well-established pattern of finding patronage among upper-class families engaged in a manufacturing trade, such as the Rankins and the Griffiths. The specific identity of the young girl is uncertain. An obituary for Julia A. Jones in the New York Times (January 14, 1875) identified the deceased as the fifty-nine-year-old widow of the late George W. Andruss; having been born in 1816, she presumably would have been older than the girl who appears in this portrait. A nearly identical version of the composition in the form of a small panel recently surfaced in New England. The artist, presumably Eddy, included a butterfly (symbolic of the transience of life) flying in the air to the right of the girl, suggesting that the portrait was painted posthumously. The relationship between these two paintings is unknown.


1. William H. Gerdts, Art across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting, 1710–1920, vol. 1: The East and the Mid–Atlantic (New York: Abbeville Press, 1990), p. 230.

2. The standard study of Eddy is Edith Bishop, Oliver Tarbell Eddy, 1799–1868 [exh. cat., Newark Museum] (Newark, N.J., 1950).

3. Art across America, p. 231.

4. The handwritten ink inscription reads: "Julia Andruss/Mary Dodd’s/Mother’s Sister."


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