Purchase Story

Ammi Phillips Volumes Updated

In the year that has passed since David Allaway published My People: The Works of Ammi Phillips, free to all online via ISSUU (https://issuu.com/n2xb), he has made some changes. The book is a lot bigger. He has added more biographical information to Volume I and revised the pictorial layout in Volume II.

“The advantage of publishing online is that the book is in a constant state of improvement,” he said in a phone conversation during the COVID-19 quarantine. “Last fall and summer, I made additions to the descriptive material and the biographies, adding 44,000 words. I heard from a lot of people who thought they might have an Ammi Phillips that I had overlooked. Some did,” he said. Anyone who hasn’t looked at the book on ISSUU since last August should take another look. The book now has over 200,000 words on 400-plus pages in two volumes.

What we know about Ammi Phillips (1787/88-1865) is largely told through his works. Phillips left no diary, no letters, and only one advertisement in 1810 early in his career; there is evidence of some of his land transactions. He moved a lot, buying and selling houses in every decade. He never seemed to stay in the same place for more than ten years. He traveled to the west side of the Hudson, but he never lived there. Allaway suspects that he stayed with his sitters or at a tavern, painting portraits of the tavern owners for room and board. He was steadily employed. Although he saw a drop-off in business in the early 1840s when the daguerreotype became popular, he continued to paint for another 20 years. His paintings became formulaic, except for his portraits of children, which he must have loved doing. They got bigger and more colorful. Phillips must have found his customers by word of mouth; he was steadily employed when the daguerreotype put many of his contemporaries out of the portrait-painting business.

Thanks to those who sent pictures to Allaway after the initial publication of My People: The Works of Ammi Phillips, he has added 16 portraits never before published or cataloged and deleted eight. Six of those that were deleted were duplicates, and two had insufficient attributions, for a net increase of eight portraits. Four of the discoveries are with descendants of the sitters, four are in other private collections, four were with dealers or auctioneers that had escaped Allaway’s notice, and four were reproduced in other publications—one of them in a book published in 1898 and one noted in the Frick Art Reference Library. The new additions cover the gamut of Phillips’s career.

Jonathan Akin Taber.

Jonathan Akin Taber.

Abigail Julia Ayers Taber.

Abigail Julia Ayers Taber.

William Frederic Taber.

William Frederic Taber.

Allaway said he is often asked how many undiscovered Ammi Phillips portraits may still be out there. His best guess is 50 or more. The art historian and curator Mary C. Black once estimated that Phillips may have done 2000 portraits in his lifetime. This seems high to Allaway; he knows many portraits have not survived. His best guess is that Phillips painted about 1200 and that two-thirds have survived. The fact that even after 60 years of research several portraits showed up in private hands lends hope that there are still more to be discovered.

Allaway was thrilled to hear about a trio of portraits that descended in one family. “Phillips painted Abigail Julia Ayers Taber and Jonathan Akin Taber during his Kent period in Pawling, Dutchess County, New York. Jonathan is holding a pamphlet, Report on Agriculture and Internal Improvement, published in New York in 1838. The portrait of their son William Frederic Taber wearing a red dress appears to have been cut down, but the nose of a dog is still in the picture. We know he is a boy because of the dog. Ammi Phillips painted boys with dogs and girls with cats, and boys do not wear necklaces,” said Allaway. “Children by Phillips are rare. About 7% of the roughly 750 documented works that survive are children.”

Here is the list of the 16 additions to the book made in the last year, arranged in the order they appear in the book. Go online (https://issuu.com/n2xb) to have a look at the additions and changes.

1823 - Anna Shuler Cady (#75): Vol. 1, p. 48, and Vol. 2, p. 36. Catskill, Greene County, New York, or Florida, Montgomery County, New York, circa 1823. Photo found at Frick Art Reference Library. Allaway says this is an uncertain attribution, with interesting implications. It is related to three other portraits that have been cataloged since the 1960s as being by Phillips. Allaway believes they all may be by another artist, possibly Ezra Ames. The location of this portrait has been unknown since 1937.

1855 - Dr. Joseph Priestly Dorr (#156): Vol. 1, p. 74, and Vol. 2, p. 91. Daguerreotype period, Hillsdale, Columbia County, New York, circa 1855. A unique instance of a middle-aged adult who had also been painted by Phillips as a child, circa 1814 (see Vol. 2, p. 20). Private collection.

1829 - Hannah Lewis Husted Hunting (#285): Vol. 1, p. 113, and Vol. 2, p. 53. Previously unknown companion to Isaac Hunting (dated 1829), Pine Plains or nearby Stanford, Dutchess County, New York. Private collection.

1848 - Charles Friend Starr (#481) and Mariette Clark Seeley Starr (#482): Vol. 1, p. 175. Daguerreotype period pair, Danbury, Fairfield County, Connecticut, circa 1848. Private collection.

1838 - Abigail Julia Ayers Taber (#499) and Jonathan Akin Taber (#500): Vol. 1, p. 180, and Vol. 2, p. 69. Kent period pair, Pawling, Dutchess County, New York, holding an 1838 pamphlet, Report on Agriculture and Internal Improvement New York. Descended to the present owners.

1838 - William Frederic Taber (#501): Vol. 1, p. 181, and Vol. 2, p. 76. Rare Kent period child in red dress (canvas possibly reduced), son of Abigail and Jonathan Taber, Pawling, Dutchess County, New York, circa 1838. Descended to the present owners, as above.

1818-20 - Ebenezer William Walbridge (#541): Vol. 1, p. 194. Troy period, Lansingburgh, Rensselaer County, New York, 1818-20. Previously unknown companion to Sally Morgan Walbridge. Reproduction found in 1898 book. Current location unknown.

1821 - Gen. Charles Whiting (#549) and Margaret Rogers Whiting (#550): Vol. 1, p. 196. Troy period pair, Kinderhook, Columbia County, New York, circa 1821. Commercial gallery.

1855 - Young Man Holding Ballou’s Pictorial / Unknown Boy (#658): Vol. 1, p. 222, and Vol. 2, p. 93. Daguerreotype period, probably Berkshire County, Massachusetts, datable to circa January to July 1855 based on the periodical’s masthead. Private collection.

1825 - Young Man with Quill / Unknown Man (#664): Vol. 1, p. 224, and Vol. 2, p. 43. Realistic period, possibly Orange County, New York, circa 1825. Descended to the present owners.

1834 - Portrait of a Lady in a Balloon-sleeved Dress (#680): Vol. 1, p. 228. Early Kent period young woman, possibly Columbia County, New York, circa 1834. Similar to Ten Broeck portraits. Previously unindexed photo found at Frick Art Reference Library. Kennedy Galleries (unknown date). Current location unknown.

1850 - Portrait of a Lady / Unknown Woman (#703): Vol. 1, p. 233, and Vol. 2, p. 83. Daguerreotype period, circa 1850. Sold at auction in 2018.

1846 Woman with Spectacles Holding a Book (#755): Vol. 1, p. 245. Probably Dutchess County, New York, circa 1846. South Bay Auctions (May 1999). Location unknown.


Originally published in the July 2020 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2020 Maine Antique Digest

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