May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Mary Kimberly Thomas Reynolds
James Blakeslee Reynolds

Attributed to Reuben Moulthrop (1763-1814) Achievers

West Haven, Connecticut

c. 1788

Oil on canvas

45 1/4 x 36" each

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York
Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2013.1.1, 2

Photo by John Parnell

Mary Kimberly Thomas Reynolds
James Blakeslee Reynolds

An informal patronage system developed after the War of Independence when elite citizens, such as Ezra Stiles, president of Yale College, commissioned portraits and other works of art by American-born self-taught artists. Many of these artists, like Reuben Moulthrop, were patriots who had served in the military. According to his daughter, Stiles considered Moulthrop a “self-taught artist” who “pleased with his genius.” The artist was celebrated in Connecticut, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and the West Indies for his life-size dressed wax figures staged in historical vignettes that portrayed such scenes as “The King of France in the Act of Losing His Head under the Guillotine” or honored American war heroes. He also painted likenesses of the new American citizens in a direct, unflinching style that emerged after the war.

In these impressive portraits, Moulthrop placed James and Mary Reynolds in their own home rather than idealized settings. Certain emblematic conventions persist, such as flowers that symbolize fertility; in fact a child was born to the couple the following year. Clear gazes and open faces express pride of place and a sense of achievement. The tricorn hat hanging on the wall behind Mr. Reynolds was still the fashion of the day but may also refer to his service in the Connecticut regiment during the war.

Stacy C. Hollander, “Mary Kimberly Thomas Reynolds/James Blakeslee Reynolds," exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.