The State Journal Register

Springfield, Illinois

           
 "Local Art Mystery Solved"
   

 By Chris Dettro
June 20, 2011
   
           

The Springfield Art Association has solved a longstanding puzzle with the help of a Chicago-area art conservator as to who painted the association's portrait of Gov. Ninian Edwards. All the association knew about the Edwards portrait, which has been in its permanent collection, came from a note scrawled in what looked like lampblack on the back of the canvas. That indicated it was painted by "Barry" in 1825.

But no one could determine who "Barry" might have been. "We've had it probably since the early 20th century," said Erika Holst, curator of collections for the association. She believes the painting came from Eliza Condell, who was Ninian Edwards' great-granddaughter and the granddaughter of Benjamin and Helen Edwards, who lived in the home that now houses the art association.

But in December, the association sent the painting to Barry Bauman of River Forest to have it cleaned and restored. "He finished it in early June and sent us an email saying he'd found a small signature that read 'Berry, 1827' on the lower left of the canvas," Holst said. That one letter in the spelling of the artist's name made all the difference.

"It had been a total dead-end," Holst said. "But I had heard of Berry because he painted the portrait of George Washington that hangs in the Old State Capitol. The artist was James William Berry, described as "the earliest known artist of considerable talent in Illinois. I couldn't believe it when Barry told me the news," Holst said. "To think we had a painting by such an important Illinois artist hidden right under our nose. It is a significant piece of art and history as well."

Berry made his name painting portraits of powerful Illinois statesmen. He began his career as an artist at age 19 with a portrait of Gov. Edward Coles. His other subjects include Gov. Shadrach Bond, Gov. Joseph Duncan and state Treasurer Robert McLaughlin. His most well known portraits are those of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, both of which are displayed at the Old State Capitol State Historic Site. Berry was just 22 when he painted the portrait of Edwards, who was then beginning his service as governor of the state of Illinois, having previously served as governor of the Illinois Territory and a U.S. senator.

Edwards' large brood of children included Ninian W., Abraham Lincoln's brother-in-law; Julia, who married Daniel Pope Cook, the congressman from whom Cook County got its name; Albert Gallatin, who went on to found a brokerage firm in St. Louis under his initials; and Benjamin, a Springfield attorney who lived at Edwards Place, current home of the art association, from 1843 until his death in 1886.

Holst said she believes this is the first time the Edwards portrait has been cleaned and otherwise conserved. It had become discolored by years of accumulated grime. Bauman, a former associate curator of conservation at the Art Institute of Chicago and founder of the Chicago Conservation Center, now offers free conservation services to not-for-profit organizations that would otherwise be unable to afford the expense of such treatment.

Holst said the Edwards portrait has been returned to the art association, but has not yet been put on public display. "We're trying to find the most appropriate place to put him," she said. "He should be on display within a couple of weeks."

           
 

 
           


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Barry Bauman Conservation
Contact: Mr. Barry Bauman
1122 N. Jackson Ave., River Forest, IL. 60305
Ph.(708)771-0382  Fax.(708)771-1532
e-mail:barrybbc7@yahoo.com