Limner Denison


(active c. 1790)
created works that are boldly distinctive in style and well-documented as to geographical origin, yet their maker’s identity is less certain. There are nine known works by this hand that share very similar dimensions (about thirty-five by twenty-seven inches) and are in nearly identical in width, with black frames and sculpted gilt edges.These portraits, all depicting sitters from Stonington, Connecticut—six surnamed Denison, hence the appellation of “Denison Limner”—share strong contours; intense palettes; elongation of the sitters’ hands; straight, tight-lipped mouths; dark lining over the eyes; and geometric forms, particularly the oval exaggeration of eye-shapeand the sitters’ egg-shaped heads.As early as 1956, one historian attributed the Denison portraits to Joseph Steward (1753–1822), an artist, clergyman, and entrepreneur who lived in Connecticut,and painted sitters in several New England locations. Steward’s documented works, most from about 1793, share many characteristics with the Denison portraits, yetthey are much more naturalistic than this probably slightly earlier group. A link between the two may be the portraits of John and Lucy Ayer Avery (1788–1789).Although both are very Denison-like appearance, they are noted in John Avery’s account book as being by Steward. If the Denison Limner and Joseph Steward arenot one and the same, the visual evidence suggests there was some close working relationship between them.
See also
Painting, American Folk; Joseph Steward
Chotner, Deborah.
American Naïve Paintings.
Washington, D.C., 1992.Harlow, Thompson R. “The Life and Trials of Joseph Steward.”
Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin,
vol. 46, no. 4 (October 1981): 97–164. ——.“The Versatile Joseph Steward: Portrait Painter and Museum Proprietor.”
vol. 121, no. 1 (January 1982): 303–311.Little, Nina. “Little-Known Connecticut Artists, 1790–1810.”
Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin,
vol. 22, no. 4 (October 1957): 101