Miniature Portraits by John Carlin

By Ashley Montevago

This week’s object is a set of portrait miniatures of Henry Cornelius Hasbrouck (1839-1910) and Mary E. Hasbrouck (1811-1907) painted by John Carlin (1813- 1891). The miniatures are both watercolor paintings on ivory which have been glued to white paper. One painting is held in a red leather case with gold hooks; it has red velvet on the inside left and the image of the young Henry Hasbrouck on the other side. There is an inscription in pencil on the back that reads, “Henry Hasbrouck/aged 4 years old/ Oct. 1843/by J. Carlin, a mute.” Henry Hasbrouck was 4 years old when the painting was created in October of 1843. His big blue eyes and white ruffled shirt makes him seem almost angelic. There is an inscription on the back of the other watercolor that reads, “Mrs Mary E Hasbrouck/By J Carlin, a mute/ Oct. 1843”. This watercolor is similar to Henry’s, inside a brown leather case with red velvet. Before the development of photography, hand-painted portrait miniatures were popular among the families who could afford them. Historic Huguenot Street has several of these portrait miniatures painted by John Carlin.

henryhasbrouckbyjohncarlin1

henryhasbrouckbyjohncarlin2

maryhasbrouckbyjohncarlin1

maryhasbrouckbyjohncarlin2

John Carlin was born in Philadelphia in 1813; he was a painter who specialized in portrait miniatures early in his career.  Carlin was a “pioneering deaf painter, writer, poet, and public sign-speaker. The success of Carlin’s colorful and detailed portraits allowed him to campaign successfully for the advanced education of deaf people in the United States.”1 Born deaf, Carlin was unable to communicate with his parents and was left to wander the streets of Philadelphia alone. A man named David Seixas, merchant and philanthropist, found Carlin on the streets and brought him to his specialized school in the 1820s. Carlin excelled at the Mount Airy School (now the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf), where he learned sign language, how to read and write and also how to paint, which he was most interested in. He graduated from the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf in 1825.

Carlin did not let his disabilities stand in the way of his life making his success truly remarkable. At the age of 12 he was able to support himself after graduation by painting houses and signs. In his spare time he continued to study and at the age of 19 he had mastered five foreign languages. Carlin took classes with artists such as John Neagle and John Rubens Smith in portrait painting, which eventually led to his own studio being opened in December 1834. Carlin traveled throughout Europe, studied art at the British Museum in London and under other artists in Paris. When he returned to America in 1941, he set up a studio in New York City.

According to Amy Spencer, “he [Carlin] returned to his work as a portraitist specializing in miniatures on ivory. Some of his first patrons were among prominent families of New York and through these connections he became friends with prominent figures such as Jefferson Davis, First Lady Jane Pierce, and political advisor Thurlow Weed. Between 1841 and 1850, Carlin completed nearly two thousand miniatures.”2

Connecting this back to the paintings held at HHS, it is definite Carlin created the portrait miniatures of young Henry Hasbrouck and Mary Hasbrouck in his New York City studio; perhaps Carlin even traveled to New Paltz to do a live sketch. Knowing these portrait miniatures in the Historic Huguenot Street collections are two of the nearly two thousand he created is an honorable gift – a few years after these were painted, Carlin stopped creating such works due to the rise of photography, making these much more special.

1 Spencer, Amy. “John Carlin (1813–1891).” Questroyal Fine Art, LLC. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.

2 Ibid.

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