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Artist unknown
American, possibly Boston, Mass.
Circa 1849–1850
Oil on canvas
34 x 27 inches, sight
Courtesy of Artemis Gallery

This painting serves as an important document for 19th-century lighting in America, specifically the Solar lamp, which is seen here on a table behind an unknown sitter. The Solar lamp, a form of Argand lamp that provided a far superior light source than a candle, drawing its power from a fuel reservoir, was developed by Cornelius & Company in Philadelphia in the early 1840s. A label on the back of the painting is printed with the following information: “Prepared by O. Stearns, No. 9 Armory Hall, Boston.” According to Alexander Katlan’s American Artists’ Materials Suppliers Directory (1987), which illustrates this label on p. 457, Stearns was only at this address in 1849 and 1850.

This painting, therefore, has historical importance as one of the earliest documented depictions of this innovative form of lighting. One can easily imagine that the sitter, obviously a successful gentleman, wanted to be painted alongside his most fashionable and up-to-date accessory.

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