Son of Captain William and Charlotte Selleck, James is pictured as a young man of twenty-one. He was born in Wilton as his parent were living there by this time. In 1845 he married Elizabeth Miner.
According to the donor, James was one of the first holders of Old Chelsea and was an officer of the National Lead Company in New York City. Old Chelsea refers to the first cooperative apartment building in Manhattan, which was built in 1883. The Manhattan City Directory for 1885 lists James’ address as 222 West 23rd Street which was the address of the Chelsea Hotel and still is. James also had a home in Englewood, New Jersey.
During the restoration of the painting, conservator Alexander Katlan discovered a barely discernable painting beneath James’ portrait. (It was not unusual for striving young artists to reuse materials.) He also discovered the presence of a mole on James’ cheek which had earlier been painted over. Mr. Katlan restored the mole.
Charles Loring Elliott was born in upstate New York and grew up in various towns in Cayuga County. His father was an architect who tried unsuccessfully to dissuade his son from becoming an artist. Young Charles persisted however and his father finally agreed to his going to New York City where he studied with John Trumbull and John Quidor. Although he painted some landscapes, his focus and real talent were most apparent in his portraits. For a time he traveled as an itinerant portraitist.
In 1845 he returned to New York City and exhibited his work at the National Academy of Design. Within a few years he became known as one of the foremost portrait painters of his time and is known to have painted more than 700.
It has been suggested that the portraits of William, James, and Charlotte were commissioned at the same time to the same artist. However, William and Charlotte’s portraits are painted in oil on canvas while James portrait is an oil on panel and is the only one currently attributed to the well-known portraitist, Charles Loring Elliott.
Image © Stamford Historical Society