Adolph-Ulric Wertmuller : Sims of Philadelphia, Portrait of Mrs.
Adolph-Ulric Wertmuller (Sims of Philadelphia, Portrait of Mrs.)

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Artist: Adolph-Ulric Wertmuller
Title: Sims of Philadelphia, Portrait of Mrs.
Year: 1808
Media: Oil on canvas, 27 x 21 3/4 inches
Description: Signed, dated, and inscribed indistinctly at upper left: “Wertmüller S/Philadelphia 1808”1
RECORDED (probably): Adolph-Ulric Wertmüller, Cash Book (Jan. 21, 1809): “Received for two portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Sims, $200.”2

The lush flesh painting evident in Wertmüller’s Danae and in the portrait of his wife Betsey is also evident in the artist’s Portrait of Mrs. Sims of Philadelphia3 Although she is not a conventional beauty, Mrs. Sims’s flesh is soft, supple, and flawless, and her particularized features are melded into a well proportioned and serene face. The vivid red accents of her shawl and the roses in her turban establish a bold triangular composition, while the meticulously rendered details of her dress, her jewelry, and her dark braided hair and ringlets offer the viewer an intimate encounter with her presence through their visual specificity. The lace on Mrs. Sims’s dress, the patterning of her shawl, and the small red buds, silhouetted against the dark background above her head, display Wertmüller’s meticulous drawing and careful manipulation of light and shadow. Such articulation of detail and such studied pictorial control surely contributed to the particularly high prices Wertmüller charged for his portraits. His failing eyesight, during his later years, also must have made the creation of a work such as this time-consuming and demanding. Yet this is a portrait that fully and gracefully reveals the hallmarks of Wertmüller’s style--his keen observation of the visual world, academically precise technique, facility with color, and ability to produce works that function simultaneously as sensuous recreations of the real world and finely crafted objects of luxury.


1. Wertmüller typically added an “S” after his signature on his paintings to indicate his nationality. See Franklin D. Scott, Wertmüller: Artist and Immigrant Farmer (Chicago: Swedish Pioneer Historical Society, 1963), p. 12, n. 28.
2. Wertmüller’s Cash Book is in the Archives of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.
3. A transcript of Wertmüller’s Cash Book, in Michel N. Benisovich, “Further Notes on A.-U. Wertmüller in the United States and France,” Art Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 1 (spring 1963), p. 9, records an entry by Wertmüller for Jan. 21, 1809: “ Received for two portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Sims, $200.” Since this is the only female portrait listed in the Cash Book for either 1808 or 1809, it appears that Wertmüller did not receive his payment for the two Sims portraits until early 1809; and that this portrait, which is signed and dated 1808, is the portrait of Mrs. Sims. See Benisovich, “Further Notes,” p.21. This identification is further strengthened by the fact that Mrs. Joseph Sims (Rebecca Heath, 1769-1830) was thirty-nine in 1808, an age that appears to correspond to the age of the sitter. Rebecca Heath married Joseph Sims (1760-1851), who was later described by Abraham Ritter as a “well-known,” “opulent” and “venerable” Philadelphia merchant, in 1789. For more on Sims, see Ritter, Philadelphia and Her Merchants (Philadelphia, 1860), pp. 53-4. Sims also owned at least two other works by Wertmüller. An entry on May 12, 1795, in the artist’s “Notte” states: “Fini le portrait de Mr. Sims L’Aine après une miniature de Mr. Peale, pour Mr. Joseph Sims, son frère, quare toile de 15.” Michel N. Benisovich, “Wertmüller et son livre de raison intitulé la ‘Notte,’” Gazette des Beaux Arts, ser. 6, vol. 48 (July Aug. 1956), p. 59. The Sims family also owned Wertmüller’s Portrait of a Woman as Ceres, oil on canvas, 18 x 15 inches, inscribed at lower right: “A. Wertmuller S./Philad: 1809.” See Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Quality, an Experience in Collecting (New York: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Nov. 12-Dec. 7, 1974), no.45. This reference lists Sims’s descendants, Mary Sims, Francis Sims, and Joseph Sims as sequential owners of this work.

Adapted from an essay by Carol Eaton Soltis

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Price: This item is no longer available for sale
Inventory: RS 5814
Category: •nineteenth century•portrait•female•a:Philadelphia•a:American•a:Pennsylvania•a:Swedish•a:French•a:European•
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