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Bray Underwood Simes (1801-1885)

ca. 1835
Origin: America, New Hampshire, Milton Mills (probably)
Unframed: 33 1/2 x 28 1/4in. (85.1 x 71.8cm) and Framed: 40 x 35 1/8in.
Oil on canvas
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
Acc. No. 1936.100.10
A half-length portrait of a young man seated on a red-upholstered chair or sofa and turned 1/4 toward the viewer's left. See the description of the seating furniture in the companion portrait (1936.100.11), which details its visually contradictory evidence, perhaps partly due to artistic liberties. Her portrait appears to show the extension of back indicative of a sofa (vs. a chair); his does not, but both portraits include the decorated terminus of an arm or bolster that is partly turned toward the viewer.

The male sitter's proper left arm rests on the arm (or bolster) while and his proper right elbow rests on a globe in a wooden stand; the globe is turned to show the Western hemisphere. He wears a rich brown, double-breasted coat whose collar is partly (at the top back) covered in black (velvet?). He also wears a black stock and a high-collared white shirt. On his shirtfront is a small stick pin consisting of a square black stone with a white design (perhaps masonic), the whole encased in gold. His hair is brown with sideburns, and he holds a compass in his hands.

The 3 1/2-inch cove-molded, gilt frame is original; it has a sanded inner surface and applied plaster leaf decorations at the corners.
Label:Although illogically placed in the foregrounds of the paintings, the sofa bolsters serve a compositional function: their strong diagonals pull the pictures together, making them effective companion likenesses that were intended to hang side by side. The sitters’ poses and their shared sofa also unify the images.

Saturated color is one of the hallmarks of this artist’s work. The vivid contrast between the green of Martha Simes’s dress and the red of her sofa illustrates this point. Another dramatic feature is her elaborate hairstyle, which echoes the exaggerated fullness of her sleeves. A love of decorative pattern is apparent in the painter’s meticulous depiction of lace, jewelry, rows of upholstery tacks, and the surface of the globe. Bray Simes (1801-1885), a Milton Mills, New Hampshire, merchant, married Martha Spinney (1808-ca. 1883) in 1828.

Provenance:Found in New Hampshire by Katrina Kipper of Accord, Mass.; purchased from Kipper by Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.; given by Rockefeller to CWF in 1939.


Inscription(s):Lettering on the globe in the painting includes "NORTH ATLANTIC OCEAN," "NORTH AMERICA," and "SOUTH". A graphite inscription along the left side of the back of the frame reads "B, U, Simes Milton Mills N. H."