Nehemiah Partridge


Partridge is best known for his many New York portraits, but unlike many other limners or painters of this period, he was raised and trained in New England. Born inPortsmouth, New Hampshire, he was the son of Colonel William and Mary (Brown) Partridge. His father was a prosperous merchant and leading provincial official,acting variously at times as judge, treasurer, and lieutenant governor. By 1712 Partridge was selling all types of paint in Boston, and advertised his skill as a limner capable of producing “all sorts of painting, and all sorts of [clock] dials…at reasonable rates.” It is believed he was trained as a “japanner”—a decorator and painter of furniture in the Chinese and Japanese manner—a skill that others in Boston also practiced at the time. This may have inspired his change of career to a limner. Partridgemay have received encouragement from Jacob Wendell, an Albany merchant living in Boston, to seek patrons in Albany, where no other limner had yet visited.In 1718 Partridge arrived in New York City, and began receiving commissions for portraits; but that city was already benefiting from the artistic talents of theDuyckinck family of limners, as well as from John Watson in nearby Perth Amboy, New Jersey. So he went to Albany, and he agreed to a trade with Evert Wendell,Jacob Wendell’s cousin, of three portraits plus ten pounds sterling for a horse. Evert Wendell, a well-connected merchant, mill owner, and attorney, and related tomany families in Albany, recorded this transaction in his daybook, thus establishing by name “Nehemiah Peartridge [sic] ” as the limner of three family portraits knowntoday. This record has also made possible the attribution of more than eighty other portraits and one scripture history painting to Partridge, most from the Albany area.Many of his portraits are inscribed “Aetatis Suae” (the time in which a person lives), and give the age of the sitter and the year the portrait was painted. This inspired atemporary name for the artist of this group of portraits as the “Aetatis Suae Limner,” until art historian Mary Black discovered the Wendell transaction.Partridge remained active in Albany until 1721, and then tried his prospects in Newport, Rhode Island, and in Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia, beforereturning to Albany in 1724, leaving behind a trail of portraits. The last year he is known to have painted portraits in Albany, or anywhere else, is 1725. He thenreturned to Boston, where he remained for the rest of his life.Partridge’s portraits show the influence of English mezzotint prototypes in the poses of his sitters. Depending on the patron’s ambition or wealth, he would paint plainor elaborate backgrounds, which at times contained incongruous Renaissance architecture. Partridge worked out a manner of painting that allowed for quick execution,in which the image was laid out on a single layer of paint rather than being built up in blended layers. Over time, this dark ground layer has bled through the thinly painted areas of the image in many of Partridge’s portraits, creating heightened contrasts not originally intended, especially in the faces.