(American born Denmark, 1759 - 1826)
Sarah Woodhull Forman (1781-1811)
Oil on canvas, 37 ? 27 inches
Label (handwritten in ink) on verso: “Portrait of-/Sarah Woodhull For[man]/born 1781,died 1811./Mrs. Forman holding a book of music, as she composed music/Painted by Christian Gallagher./in circa 1797.”
Label (handwritten in ink) on verso: “Sara Woodhull Father’s/Aunt,/married Col. Forman”
Marvin Sadik has noted that during his early Boston period Gullager adapted his “provincial Danish portrait style to the kind of American primitive portraiture being plied in New England during the third quarter of the eighteenth century” by artists such as Winthrop Chandler (1747-1790).1 By the time Gullager left Boston he had developed an elegant rococo style that Dunlap characterized as “a dashy, sketchy manner,” adding that he “had been well instructed in the rudiments of drawing.”2
The sitter Sarah Woodhull was born on March 28, 1781, in Freehold, Monmouth County, New Jersey. She was the only daughter of Reverend John Woodhull, who served as minister of Old Tennent Presbyterian Church from 1778 to 1824 and operated a classical academy in Freehold. Sarah Woodhull married Major William Gordon Forman, also of Freehold, in 1806. It is said that her dowry was $80,000.3 A graduate of the College of New Jersey (renamed Princeton University in 1896), he became a lawyer and eventually moved to Natchez, Mississippi, where his family owned an estate. He is credited with having introduced Eli Whitney’s cotton gin to Mississippi and was Speaker of the House in the Territorial Legislature of Mississippi in 1803. Sarah Woodhull died in Natchez on November 13, 1811. Her husband was murdered by robbers the following year in Lexington, Kentucky, while he was taking their only child, Sarah Marsh Forman, to New Jersey.4
Although no evidence survives to verify that the sitter was a composer, as the inscription states, the allusion to her interest in music indicates that she was an educated and accomplished woman, as one would expect of the marriageable young daughter of a prominent clergyman and educator. Gullager may have executed this portrait of Sarah Woodhull during the late 1790s, around the time he painted a portrait of her elder brother Reverend George Spafford Woodhull which is owned by the Princeton University Art Museum.5
1. Marvin Sadik, Christian Gullager: Portrait Painter to Federal America [exh. cat.] (Washington, D.C.: National Portrait Gallery, 1976), p. 16.
2. Dunlap, History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design, p. 142.
3. Frank R. Symmes, History of the Old Tennent Church (Cranbury, N.J.: George W. Burroughs, 1904), p. 116.
4. William P. Forman, Records of the Descendants of John Foreman (Cleveland, Ohio: Short and Forman, 1885), p. 20, and Anne Spottswood Dandridge, The Forman Genealogy (Cleveland, Ohio: Forman-Bassett-Hatch, 1903), pp. 98-99.
5. Donald Drew Egbert, Princeton Portraits (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1947), pp. 193-95, notes that the early authority William Sawitzky had attributed the Princeton portrait to Gullager
and suggested that it had been painted in the 1790s, but went on to suggest an alternative date of c. 1808.
About the Artist
(American born Denmark, 1759 - 1826)
The portraitist Christian Gullager was born in Copenhagen, the son of a servant in the household of a high-ranking government official and print collector. Gullager studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts there and was awarded a silver medal in 1780. He immigrated to the United States and was first documented in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in 1786, the year of his marriage. He was listed in the Boston directory in 1789 as a portrait painter and made two professional trips to Worcester that year. He also worked as scenery painter for the Federal Street Theatre. Gullager relocated to New York in 1797 and advertised himself as a painter of portraits and theater scenery. He soon moved to Philadelphia, where he was listed in the city directories from 1798 to 1805, the last three years as a miniature painter. William Dunlap recorded that Gullager was working as a theater scenery painter in New York in 1806, but was dismissed because of his “taste for lounging.”1 According to Philadelphia County records, Gullager’s wife obtained a divorce from him on December 27, 1809. Nothing is known about the artist’s activities until his death in 1826.