PAINTINGS CONSERVATION: Following a rare find, the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort Kentucky acquired a set of portraits painted by Patrick Henry Davenport. The portraits are exceptional in their representation of two members of a growing middle class at that time in Kentucky. These portraits are also particularly engaging, inspiring wonder about the life, circumstances, society and occupations of the two that stare out at us.
A knowledge of their past also inspires wonder that they survived. They were discovered in a barn where they had been placed long ago. As the “before treatment” condition photograph of one of the portraits illustrated here may convey, there was concern about any possibility of their restoration to an exhibitable condition. Their condition on arrival at the lab was even worse than represented in that photograph as some amount of work was required just to safely stand the portraits upright for a photograph. But the appearances of neglected and damaged paintings do not always tell accurately of hope or hopelessness. In this case, though the immediate impression was one of hopelessness, the paint film buried under that great accumulation of dirt was in good condition, thanks to a protective coating of natural resin varnish. There were some serious tears and some losses and the extraction of dirt and resin was tedious but in the end a good oil paint surface was returned.
The artist, Patrick Henry Davenport, was born in Danville, Kentucky, in 1803. His long career as a portrait painter extended from the 1820s to the 1880s. Parallel with his career as an artist, Davenport was also a businessman, and that activity put him in an expanding circle of peers of middle income and wealth, who made up the bulk of his clientele. While not the best of Kentucky’s painters, Patrick Henry Davenport was quite accomplished and he is especially valued for representing a class of people that did not commonly patronize the arts.
The portrait set will be on exhibit at the new Kentucky History Center in Frankfort, Kentucky. The artist’s work was featured in the exhibition Patrick Henry Davenport: Kentucky Portrait Maker at the Old State Capitol in Frankfort, in 1982.
For information on the Kentucky Historical Society and the Kentucky History Center, go to www.kyhistory.org.