Limner Payne


Payne an unidentified artist of rare pictorial records documenting citizens of the young United States of America, portrayed residents of Richmond, Virginia, and surroundingHenrico and Goochland Counties in the years following the American Revolutionary War. The paintings ascribed to the artist comprise ten likenesses of members of theArchibald Payne Sr. family of “New Market,” the family homestead in Goochland County, and three additional canvases of other relations. With no knowledge of theartist’s identity other than this body of work, the name “Payne Limner” has been assigned due to the large number of canvases depicting this single family.Archibald Payne Sr. and his wife Martha Spots-wood Dandridge, granddaughter of Royal Governor Alexander Spotswood and sister-in-law to Virginia’srevolutionary firebrand Patrick Henry, were prominent members of Virginia’s elite. In about 1790, the couple commissioned the Payne Limner to execute likenesses of themselves and their children. These compositions reveal several hallmarks of the artist’s style. Canvases were prepared with white pigment applied in large crescent-shaped arches, and the artist’s preliminary drawing was executed in red. Male subjects are portrayed outdoors, in rural Goochland county scenery, taking part in ruralactivities such as hunting with bows and arrows, or guns, or as in Archibald Payne Sr.’s example, standing beside his plow, with wheat and haystacks nearby. Children,also portrayed outside, hold pets and play sports, while women are depicted indoors, wearing black necklaces and holding books and fans. Faces are flushed, withdark lines drawn between lips, arms are attenuated, hands appear chubby and devoid of skeletal definition. Several skillfully rendered stick-pins worn by the sitterssuggest the artist also had some working knowledge of calligraphy. Among the Payne Limner’s most significant compositions, the group portrait depicting Archibald Sr.’s children, Alexander Spotswood and John Robert Dandridge,is remarkable for its monumental size (it measures 53″×69″) and for its full-length portrayal of an African American in the role of nursemaid to the youthful John.Alexander shows off his newly won game trophy, a small bird he recently felled with his bow and arrows. John, barely able to stand without assistance, is supported byhis nursemaid as he expresses admiration for his brother’s accomplishment. By including her to the right of the composition, the Payne Limner has presented a rarevisual record of an African American female slave’s interaction with her charge, in addition to conveying information about the garments worn by household servants.