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Double portrait of Benjamin Strickler (1799-1856) and His Wife, Margaret Zirkle Strickler (1802-1876)

1850-1855
Origin: America, Virginia, Shenandoah County
Overall, irreg. primary support (with cut apart sheets abutted): 7 7/8 x 10 1/16in. (20 x 25.6cm) Overall comp. (with cut apart sheets abutted): 4 5/8in. (11.7cm) His primary support alone, i.e., as cut apart from hers: 7 7/8 x 5 3/16in. (20 x 13.2cm) Her primary support alone, i.e., as cut apart from his): 7 15/16 x 4 15/16in. (20.2 x 12.5cm) His comp. alone, i.e., as cut apart from hers): 7 3/8 x 4 5/8in. (18.7 x 11.7cm) Her comp. alone, i.e., as cut apart from his): 7 1/4 x 4 7/8in. (18.4 x 12.4cm)
Watercolor and graphite on wove paper with later-added ink inscriptions
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 2009.300.1
A double, half-length watercolor portrait of a woman and man, the two of them seated and each having one hand on a tabletop set before them. Each sitter faces almost full front but each leans slightly to the outside edge of the composition. She wears a black dress with a white collar and white cap, tied with a black ribbon. He wears a black coat, black neck cloth, and white shirt. She has very dark brown (or black) hair and medium brown eyes; he has medium brown hair and dark blue eyes. He has a notable dimpled chin. A green drapery visually frames the two, and tassels (rendered in green watercolor over-dotted with black) dangle from near each upper corner. On the table, she holds a book, he holds a rolled piece of paper. Graphite supplies not only guidelines but also some of the shading and some of the details, e.g., his shirt pleats.
As received in 2009: at some point before acquisition, the primary support was cut apart to create two separate sheets/portraits. The centerline cut is neat and regular but bears tiny holes suggesting that the overall was once bound in a book. (Indeed, one website showing the portrait states that it was "worked on two pages of a drawing book"). The two now-separated portraits incorporate details that cross the centerline cut, corroborating that, originally, the two constituted a single sheet. The portrait was received unframed.
Label:The double portrait of the Stricklers is a rare example of Thomas Skynner's practice in Virginia. The artist is best known for extremely idiosyncratic likenesses in oil on canvas, although more than a dozen watercolors on paper have been assigned to him. Many facts of Skynner's life remain unknown. In early- nineteenth-century American genealogies, the only families using the surname spelling "Skynner" (vs. "Skinner") are Canadian, suggesting that Thomas was born there.

The Strickler portrait is tentatively dated 1850-1855 based on Skynner's signed portraits of Delia and Diannah Grubb of nearby Rockingham County, Virginia (both dated 29 January 1852) and his portraits of Valley of Virginia residents Joseph and Sarah Fisher (dated 1854).

Benjamin Strickler was the son of David and Elizabeth Grove Strickler of "Sapling Hill" farm. He married Margaret Zirkle of New Market, Virginia, in 1822. The couple raised nine children at their home on Smith Creek, just east of New Market.
Provenance:The double portrait sold at Green Valley Auctions, New Market, Va., on 14 November 2008 as lot no. 1185, where it was advertised as "the property of a New Market gentleman" and as having "descended in the Strickler family." Marshall Goodman, Midlothian, Va., bought the portrait at Green Valley and sold it to CWF.
Inscription(s):In a modern hand in black ink in the marginal reserve above her image is "Maragaret [sic] Stricker" and, above his image, "Benjamin Strickler".