AMMI PHILLIPS (1788-1865)
AMMI PHILLIPS (1788-1865)
AMMI PHILLIPS (1788-1865)
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AMMI PHILLIPS (1788-1865)
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AMMI PHILLIPS (1788-1865)


AMMI PHILLIPS (1788-1865)
Painted circa 1833
oil on canvas
31 3⁄4 x 27 in. (sight)
Anna Banks Kerr (1900-1983), Minneapolis, Minnesota
Ginsburg & Levy, New York, by purchase from above, circa 1973-1975
Tillou Gallery, Inc., Litchfield, Connecticut, 1982
Thomas Colville Fine Arts, New Haven, Connecticut
Acquired from above, August 1983
Tillou Gallery, Inc., advertisement, The Magazine Antiques (January 1982), p. 23.
Stacy C. Hollander and Howard Fertig, Revisiting Ammi Phillips: Fifty Years of American Portraiture (New York, 1994), p. 38, pl. XXIX.
Stacy C. Hollander, "Revisiting Ammi Phillips: Fifty Years of American Portraiture," Folk Art (Spring 1994), pp. 44-45.
Stacy C. Hollander, The Seduction of Light: Ammi Phillips Mark Rothko Compositions in Pink, Green, and Red (New York, 2008), p. 23.
David R. Allaway, My People: The Works of Ammi Phillips, vol. 1, p. 250, no. 752, vol. 2, p. 59.
Peter Goodman, Notebook, no. 800.
Philadelphia, The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, American Folk Painting, 14 January-20 February 1977.
New York, American Folk Art Museum, Revisiting Ammi Phillips: Fifty Years of American Portraiture, 5 February-17 April 1994.
New York, American Folk Art Museum, The Seduction of Light: Ammi Phillips Mark Rothko Compositions in Pink, Green and Red, 7 October 2008-29 March 2009.

Brought to you by

Cara Zimmerman
Cara Zimmerman Head of Americana and Outsider Art

Lot Essay

Vibrant, minimalist and mesmerizingly beautiful, this portrait of a Woman with Pink Ribbons stands as one of Ammi Phillips’ masterpieces. Here, Phillips has brought the sitter forward and only included the smallest of background details, resulting in a powerful composition with maximum impact. The neckline of the sitter’s dress and the flanking billowing sleeves, the wide waistband, hint of the sofa rail and position of the left arm all work together to emphasize the horizontal axis, while the movement of the ribbons echoed in the shimmer of the dress create a sense of circular movement within the central field. The sitter’s plain dress and fashionable large sleeves also allowed the artist to render planes of unfettered color. These expanses of green with contrasting pink highlights have been likened by Stacy C. Hollander, former Chief Curator and Deputy Director of the American Folk Art Museum, to the masterful tableaus of Mark Rothko. In her 2008 study, Hollander acknowledges the different times in which each artist worked yet notes that “in their paintings, both Phillips and Rothko opened portals to a dimension where form was suspended in an ether of suffused atmosphere, and where the mysticism of light was coaxed into being primarily through the vehicle of color” (Stacy C. Hollander, The Seduction of Light: Ammi Phillips Mark Rothko Compositions in Pink, Green, and Red (New York, 2008), p. 9).

A prolific portraitist who worked in the border areas of New York and Connecticut, Ammi Phillips rendered likenesses in a number of distinct styles over the course of his long itinerant career. The boldness and sharp realism of the portrait offered here exemplifies the traits seen in the artist’s work from the 1830s, often known as the “Kent period,” as for part of this time, he painted sitters from Kent, Connecticut. Phillips’ celebrated portraits of children in red are also masterpieces of Phillips’ Kent period and like the portrait offered here, similarly feature close-up compositions, horizontal emphasis, and large planes of color (see, for example, Christie’s, New York, 18 January 2019, lot 1205). Aside from a portrait of a mother and child, this portrait was the only other depicting an adult sitter in Hollander’s 2008 exhibition, indicating its pre-eminence among Phillips’ portraits of adults.

The portrait descended to the twentieth-century with its sitter unknown. However, its inclusion of a black horsehair-upholstered sofa with acanthus-carved front arm may offer a clue to its origins. While furniture and other items depicted in Phillips’ portraits may well be studio props rather than sitters’ possessions, it is unusual that this sofa in the color of its upholstery and the carving on the arm only appears in one other of the over 800 surviving portraits attributed to the artist in the most recent comprehensive survey, David R. Allaway, My People: The Works of Ammi Phillips, 2 vols. (2019). A sofa with these attributes is featured in Phillips’ portrait of Mary (Rowe) Arnold (1788-1876) (see illustration), who he painted in 1833 along with her husband, Welcome Arnold (1783-1881) in Dutchess County, New York (see Allaway, vol. 1, p. 28, nos. 8, 9). They had a daughter Melinda Ann (1808-1842) who in 1833 would have been twenty-five, an age that approximates that of the sitter in this portrait. She married William Clark Johnston (1805-1869) and after Melinda’s early death at the age of thirty-four, he re-married. If this portrait depicts Melinda, it would likely have been retained by her husband and then passed down in the family.

After Peter Goodman acquired the portrait in 1983, he endeavored to uncover its family history and learned from the firm Bernard and S. Dean Levy that they had purchased it from Anna B. Kerr of Minneapolis in about 1973-1975. She has been identified as Anna (Banks) Kerr (1900-1983), a prominent antiques dealer in Minneapolis who died just months before Goodman acquired this portrait. While no substantive links can be made between Melinda (Arnold) Johnston’s descendants and Kerr, two of Melinda’s three children who lived to adulthood moved to Minneapolis. Caroline C. (Johnston) Smith (1830-1899) and Welcome Arnold Johnston (1838-1910) both died in the city and had numerous children and grandchildren who remained in the area. It remains an intriguing possibility that Kerr acquired the portrait from one of these family members and it represents their ancestor, Melinda Ann (Arnold) Johnston.

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