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The Merchant

Origin: America, Indiana, Fort Wayne (possibly)
Unframed: 30 x 25 1/8in. (30 x 25 1/8in.) and Framed: 35 1/2 x 30in.
Oil on canvas
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
Acc. No. 1935.100.1
A half-length portrait of a man shown writing in a book laid on the surface of a slant-top desk. His lower body is not shown, but he appears to be standing. Green, tasseled drapery fills the upper left corner of the composition. The right side of the composition is dominated by four large, brown, ledger books having gold lettered titles over red on their spines; these appear to be set on the rear ledge of the desk. The man's body is turned in 3/4 view, his head slightly more toward the viewer, and his eyes toward the viewer. He writes in the book open before him using a white feather quill pen. He wears a black coat, a black neckcloth tied in a knot at the front, and a white shirt with an upturned collar. He has brown eyes and dark brown hair and sports sideburns. The sideburn that is most visible, on the near side of his face, starts narrowly in front of his ear but widens as it approaches his chin.

The 3 1/4-inch cove-molded, gilded frame is possibly original.
Label:This portrait was signed by "R. B. Crafft," who appears in other records as Resin B. Craft, Reasoner Crafft, and R. B. Crofft. Born in Ohio, he was first noted as a portraitist in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This 1836 likeness of an unidentified merchant, one of his earliest canvases, may well show a Fort Wayne citizen. Crafft also worked in Kentucky, Iowa, and Ohio, and portraits of a Mississippi couple suggest he worked there as well.

While the swagged drapery and realistic modeling of the merchant's face indicate a degree of familiarity with artistic conventions, the irregularities in perspective seen in the fingers, the relationship of the ledger and desk, and the row of tilted account books suggest the hand of an artist struggling to solve technical problems in his own way.

Provenance:Purchased from George S. Baker, Atlanta, Ga., by Holger Cahill on behalf of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, by whom given to Colonial Williamsburg.
Inscription(s):Written across the top of the open ledger is "August 16 th, 1836/ R. B. Crafft Dr/for cash pain(t)"; the books are titled "JOURNAL." "LEDGER", "CASH./BOOK." and "BILL./BOOK."