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Portrait of James Gignilliat (1746-1794)

ca. 1775
Origin: America, South Carolina, Charleston
Unframed: 29 3/4" x 24 3/4" and framed: 34 1/2" x 29 11/16"
Painting: Oil on canvas. Frame: Mahogany and white pine (by microanalysis).
Partial Gift, Thomas McCutchen Gignilliat and Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1973-216,A&B
A half-length portrait of a young man having very dark brown hair and brown eyes and wearing a taupe-colored coat and waistcoat with a white shirt and neckcloth. His proper right hand is stuck under his partially unbuttoned waistcoat. His proper left hand is positioned as though resting on an up-ended book on a table (though neither book nor table seems to be depicted, and the subject is not ostensibly seated). He is turned one quarter towards the viewer's right. The background is a plain dark brown.

The 2 5/8-inch flat cypress frame veneered with cross-banded mahogany is an early 19th century, locally-made replacement. It consists of a flat sight edge, followed by a half-round molding, then a flat veneered surface, and finally a cyma recta molded outer edge. See CWF furniture conservator Chris Swan's conservation and examination report of 9/6/2011.
Label:The handsome portraits of the Gignilliats of Charleston, South Carolina, and later Darien, Georgia, descended in the family until their acquisition by Colonial Williamsburg. The couple married in 1766. In the seventeenth century, the Gignilliat family moved from Switzerland to Charleston, where they became large landowners. James and Charlotte had residences in Charleston and at their plantation on the Broad River. After the Revolutionary War, they moved to Georgia, where he operated a rice plantation named Contentment.
Benbridge’s skillful use of color is balanced and lovely, particularly in the portrait of Mrs. Gignilliat. She wears “portrait dress,” that is, clothing that was donned just for the portrait or that was, perhaps, fictitious, created by the artist. James is probably wearing his own clothing.
Provenance:The portrait and its companion, acc. no. 1973-217, descended in the family of the sitters until acquired by CWF in 1973, although the earliest part of the line of descent is undocumented (and appears to have been speculated by various genealogists).

From the sitters to their eldest son, James, Jr. (1767-?) (see n. 1); to James, Jr.'s nephew and niece-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Norman Page Gignilliat, i.e., Norman Page Gignilliat (1809-1871), and his wife, Charlotte Gignilliat Trezevant Gignilliat (1819-1910) of Darien and Marietta, Ga. See n. 2.

From an undocumented date until 1910, the two portraits are said (n. 3) to have been owned by James Gignilliat (exact identity and dates undetermined) and Margaret Gignilliat Trezevant [sic; the compiler believes this name to be an error for Charlotte Gignilliat Trezevant Gignilliat [1819-1910]); to G[eorge] W[arren] Gignilliat, who owned them from 1910 until 1926; to Charles Gignilliat, Sr., who owned them from 1926 to 1955; to his son, Thomas McCutchen Gignilliat of Seneca, SC, CWF's source, who owned them from 1955 to 1973. (See n. 3 for the source of information in this last paragraph).