Limner Guilford


is the appellation given to a painter of watercolor portraits who worked in Guilford County, North Carolina, and Clark County, Kentucky, during the 1820s. None of the work is signed, but two references to the artist are known. One, written by the granddaughter of a North Carolina sitter, states that “a traveling French artist” had painted her grandmother’s portrait. The other, from an inscription on one of the two known Kentucky portraits, notes that it was painted by “Dupue.” These remarksmay appear to support one another, but more information is required to conclude that “Dupue” was indeed the Guilford Limner.In the nearly forty known examples, sitters’ names frequently appear below their likenesses or in the backgrounds, and dated works range from 1820 to 1827. The North Carolina subjects were successful merchants, plantation owners, and their families, most of whom were related, knew one another, and lived within a five-mileradius of Greensboro. Adults are seated indoors, facing forward or in three-quarter poses. Some male subjects sit cross-legged, while others are seated at tables, writing letters or attending to business accounts. Women often hold handkerchiefs, books, or knitting implements. Children usually stand indoors, or are posed outdoors in landscape or garden settings. Carefully rendered faces are distinguished bylarge eyes with oversize irises. Hands did not intimidate the artist, for they appear in all the known portraits. Plants are prominent, including flowering vines that flank or arch over some sitters, as well as trees, rosebushes, cut flowers, and, in one instance, ears of corn.Room furnishings are an integral part of many portraits, making the works valuable records of early-nineteenth-century North Carolina domestic tastes. Adults andyouths are seated in painted and gilded fancy chairs, and one elderly subject sits in a turned armchair. Patterned carpets or floor cloths, candle stands, and drop-leaf tables are standard props. Wainscoting and chair rails brightened by faux marble decoration painted in vivid, contrasting hues also appear frequently.The most vexing question about the Guilford Limner, besides the artist’s identity, regards the source or inspiration for these compositions. Portraits by the Canadianwatercolor artist, Thomas Macdonald (c. 1784–1862), come to mind, but it is unlikely that their paths crossed. No body of work of comparable size, originality, or technical proficiency from this period painted in America is known. One explanation, which the two references to the artist may support, is that the Guilford Limner wasforeign-born and introduced a new style of portraiture to America.
See also

Painting, American Folk; Watercolors
Carroll, Karen Cobb.
Windows to the Past: Primitive Watercolors from Guilford County, North Carolina, in the 1820s.
Greensboro, N.C., 1983.Little, Nine Fletcher.
Little by Little: Six Decades of Collecting American Decorative Arts.
New York, 1984