John Nelson Marble’s portrait of Mary Baker Eddy
Portrait of Mary Baker Eddy by John Nelson Marble from the collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, 1917. Courtesy of the New Hampshire Historical Society. Photograph: © The Mary Baker Eddy Library
Thousands of visitors to Concord, New Hampshire, enter the doors of the historic statehouse to learn more about significant politicians, merchants, and soldiers—both men and women—who honored the state with their accomplishments. Each has his or her likeness commemorated through art. At the end of one winding corridor hangs a full-length portrait of Mary Baker Eddy.
It’s not surprising that Eddy would have a place among these notable figures. Born near Concord in the Town of Bow, she gained the love and respect of the Granite State. A longtime resident of the capital, she contributed both attention and resources to its welfare.
This portrait is the work of John Nelson Marble (1855-1918), an American illustrator and portrait painter from Woodstock, Vermont. He studied at the Académie Julian in Paris and kept a studio in Manhattan during the late 1870s. There the National Academy Museum and School in New York occasionally featured his work, and periodicals such as Harper’s Magazine included his drawings in their issues.1 Marble was one of the earliest and oldest members of the Salmagundi Club, a prestigious art association in Greenwich Village whose members have included John LaFarge, William Merritt Chase, and Norman Rockwell.2
The Trustees Under the Will of Mary Baker Eddy commissioned Eddy’s portrait in 1916,3,4 furnishing Marble with photographs of her and loaning him one of her gowns. Whether the Trustees selected Marble, or whether he approached them—as artists often did at the time—remains a mystery. We do know that the painting briefly hung in the Trustees’ board room before they presented it to the New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord in 1917. The Society, in turn, loaned Marble’s work to the State of New Hampshire in 1949.
Though the painting is not a part of our collections, an early sketch by Marble is our highlighted object this month. Artists typically create one or more of these studies, or drafts, to use as a guide for their process. Notice, for instance, that his earlier work features coarse, quick brush strokes and less defined lines, along with variations in the shape and color of Eddy’s eyes and nose. The flowers at the waist of Eddy’s gown, an added decoration, appear more vivacious in the final composition. And while some elements are highlighted in the later version, others are obscured. The table’s legs, drawn into the shadows, are revealed to us in the light in Marble’s early version. Through subtle comparisons, we can get a glimpse into Marble’s process as he played with colors, shapes, and lighting.
Portrait painters intend to convey not only their subject’s likeness but also individual character and bearing. This is not easily achieved and is often opposed to any strict photographic realism. As Marble based his portrait on photographs, rather than a sitting, the piece certainly showcases his skill. It is now one of the many portraits displayed at the state house, which have grown considerably in number since they first began appearing in the mid-nineteenth century. This fascinating collection includes portraits of lawyers, legislators, ministers, and more.5
- “John Nelson Marble.” American Art News 16, no. 26 (1918): 4, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25589270.
- Alexander W. Katlan, Salmagundi Club painting exhibitions records 1889 to 1939: a guide to the annual exhibition of oil paintings and the annual exhibition and auction sale of pictures (Flushing, NY: Alexander W. Katlan & Salmagundi Club NYC, 2008).
- “In the court of probate…,” Christian Science Sentinel, October 25, 1913, https://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/2c2i5xxsce6?s=e.
- Archibald McLellan, “‘Be Strong and of a Good Cheer,’” Christian Science Sentinel, October 25, 1913, https://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/284psh9hbtu?s=e.
- Russell Bastedo, “The New Hampshire State House Portraits Collection.” February 2000, accessed February 10, 2017, http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/1aa/1aa372.htm.