Surviving in exceptional condition with an illustrious provenance, this pastel of Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) is a particularly fine example by James Sharples (1751/2-1811). Relatively few versions of Hamilton are known and this is one of eight that have come to light, several of which are in museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Portrait Gallery and The Museum of the City of New York. A British artist, Sharples arrived in America with his family in 1794. He set up his studio in New York City, but travelled frequently, especially to Philadelphia, the seat of the US Government. By 1799, Hamilton had sat for Sharples and with the aid of a physiognotrace, Sharples made exacting replicas of the original portraits. In December 1799, Sharples advertised “Polygraphic Copies” from “any of the original Portraits in Mr. Sharples’s collection of distinguished characters,” including “General Hamilton” (New York Commercial, December 1799 cited in Harry MacNeill Bland and Virginia W. Northcott, “The Life Portraits of Alexander Hamilton,” William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 12, no. 2 (April 1955), p. 193).
According to the file on this work at the Frick Art Reference Library, this portrait of Hamilton was purchased by Anthony Walton White (1750-1803) or his widow, Margaret Vanderhorst (Ellis) White (1767-1850) at a sale of the estate of the artist. A few months after Sharples' death, his widow advertised that the collection of "original portraits" painted by the late James Sharples, Esq. were available for sale (New York Public Advertiser, April 6, 1811, cited in Neil Jeffares, see Literature). As Anthony died in 1803, he either acquired the work within a few years of its execution, or it was purchased at the Sharples estate sale by Margaret. Like Hamilton, White was an aide-de-camp to Washington and fought as Lieutenant Colonel in many of the major battles of the Revolutionary War, including Yorktown where he served under the Marquis de Lafayette. White and Hamilton corresponded regarding troop movements and after the War, were in contact when both were living in New York City. In a surviving letter from Hamilton to White, dated April 29th, 1789, Hamilton seeks White’s aid in securing votes for the gubernatorial election and refers to a pre-arranged meeting the following day at the Plough & Harrow, an inn in the Bowery district (Letter, Alexander Hamilton to Walton White, 29 April 1789, Greer and Vinsinger Family Collection of American Revolutionary War Documents, The University of Tennessee Library). Thus, it is possible that White acquired this portrait as a likeness of a colleague or a friend. White may have also owned a Sharples portrait of Washington, see Christie's, New York, January 21, 2005, lot 321.
The portrait descended along female lines to Anthony and Margaret’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Eliza) White (1794-1861), the second wife of Thomas M. Evans (1790-1820), and then to Eliza’s step-daughter, Isabelle (Bella) Joanna Evans (1815-1901). Bella appears to have adopted her half-brother’s orphaned children, including Transito Isabella (Bellita) Evans (1868-1950), the last family member to own the work. Bellita presumably sold it to the New York dealer Jonce I. McGurk (1875-1947) before she moved to Texas prior to 1910 with her husband, Stephen Watts Kearny (1869-1951). McGurk sold the portrait to Mary Williamson (Averell) Harriman (1851-1932), wife of railroad tycoon Edward Henry Harriman (1848-1909) and it descended in her family until it sold at auction in 2014.