A Mystery of Two Portraits of Thomas Paine

The portrait of Thomas Paine reportedly vandalized at the Museum of Arts and Science in Daytona Beach, Florida (see the earlier post on the Home section of this blog) is a double-mystery. First there is the as yet unknown motivation of the person or persons who performed the act. Perhaps more information on that subject will surface as the investigation proceeds. As it turns out, however, there is another mystery at play. The painting in the Daytona Beach museum is by an unknown artist and appears to match up in many respects to another oil portrait of Paine attributed to the American artist Matthew Pratt owned by Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. Here is an image of the Daytona Beach portrait provided by museum Collections Manager Eric Mauk:

The museum attributes this portrait to English painter  George Romney. 

Here is a copy of the portrait attributed to Matthew Pratt and held by Lafayette College in Easton, PA:

Here are my findings to date:

1). The two paintings -- one attributed to Matthew
Pratt at Lafayette College and the other attributed
to George Romney at the Museum of Arts and
Science at Daytona, FL -- are related. One is
almost surely a copy or development of the other.

2). Both paintings are inadequately
documented and/or attributed. Ms. Okaya, the curator
at Lafayette College's museum
characterized their records on the "Pratt" as
"scant to non-existent" and provided these

"The artist is attributed to Matthew Pratt, the National Portrait Gallery
CAP researcher dated the painting to ca. 1785-95.
The painting was acquired in 1945, provenance not noted."

This painting is, moreover unsigned and it is worth noting
that only one painting by Pratt is thought -- again, as
I recall -- to have been
signed by him ie. his "The American School."

Similarly, the painting in Daytona Beach lacks
a signature and no known rationale is given for the attribution,

3). The painting at the Museum of Arts and Sciences
APPEARS to be the older of the two -- based both
on style and condition of the painting. But any conclusion
in this regard is at best tentative pending closer
examination. Based on style, it may prove that the
one in Daytona is actually a Pratt and the Lafayette
a later copy.

4). The painting at the Museum of Arts and Science
is not the "lost" portrait of Paine by George Romney.
It may be "a" painting of Paine by Romney -- without
removal from the frame and further examination and
consultation, it is not possible to make that judgment.
But this is not likely the very famous "lost" portrait
of Paine by Romney because it differs in several key
respects from what we know of the Romney -- our
knowledge based largely on the even more
famous engraving by William Sharp after Romney.

You're invited to stay tuned and follow this blog for more updates on this double-mystery and other vagaries of Paine scholarship.

© Kenneth W. Burchell 2011, All Rights Reserved.