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178 Painting New England in the Dutch West Indies John Greenwood’s Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam KATELYN D. CRAWFORD On 16 December 1752 the Boston-born portrait painter John Greenwood arrived in Paramaribo, the capital of the Dutch colony of Surinam, on the northeast coast of South America. Sailing from Boston, the twenty-fiveyear -old did not know that he would never again set foot in his hometown. Likely seeking patrons for his portraits, he set about documenting every English vessel arriving at the port and its point of origin.1 Though his listing of boats lasted only one month, he persisted in studying his surroundings, accounting for the flora and fauna, slavery and plantation systems, English and Dutch mercantile networks, and linguistic intersections of the colony. He reported on his time in Surinam in two memoranda books. His final entry in the second book is a twenty-page narrative in the style of betterknown chroniclers of travel, considering the colony’s geography, natural resources , and inhabitants. Throughout Greenwood’s text, however, his work as a portraitist receives no direct attention beyond a list of portraits he painted and their prices; instead it is mentioned only in scrawled asides like that on the inside cover of the volume, specifying three sizes for six frames the artist supplied to one Surinam resident. Just one among many clues about the scale of Greenwood ’s business and social connections while in the colony, this note indicates the sale of six frames to “Tarton,” a planter holding five hundred acres on a tributary of the Commowiene River. Tarton’s plantation is among the first Greenwood mentions visiting. Yet while Greenwood sold this planter frames and may even have provided the works filling those frames, his Surinam memorandum book never indicates that he painted Tarton’s portrait . Greenwood’s visits to plantations around Paramaribo did result in commissions, however, as in the case of “J. Scherping,” whose coffee plantation , Rasten Lust, was located near the mouth of the Suriname River, down- Painting New England in the Dutch West Indies 179 stream and on the opposite bank from Paramaribo. A short trip from the port city, Rasten Lust was the second plantation Greenwood listed visiting, and this relationship later led to the artist’s painting a half-length portrait of Scherping for one hundred gilders. Greenwood not only painted portraits but also sold pictures and frames while residing in Paramaribo; however, his list of portraits is the only steady source of income he tracks in his Surinam memorandum book. The majority of the canvases he painted were kit-kat, quarter-, half-, or whole-length representations of merchant-captains or planters living near or passing through the port city.2 Greenwood reported painting 113 portraits, or about 23 a year during his six-year stay in the colony from 1752 to 1758. These canvases were not painted in a continuous stream of work or on a single price scale, however . Greenwood’s earliest Surinam portrait, a whole-length painting of “C. Macknich” for 200 gilders, was among the most expensive canvases commissioned from the artist during his residence. The portraits he painted earlier in his time in the colony were similarly priced and equally opulent, as he painted families and their children primarily in half- and whole-length formats. A notable drop in his prices occurs at a midpoint in the list, when Greenwood charges “Miss V: Coper” not 200 gilders for a whole-length portrait but instead 140. Though Greenwood painted almost two-thirds of his total Surinam canvases after this picture, the later canvases were rarely on the scale of his earliest Surinam portraits or painted for similar amounts. This precipitous drop in the prices he was charging for portraits never recovered before his departure from the colony for Amsterdam in 1758. For an artist who likely traveled seeking new patrons for his portraits, Greenwood’s time in Surinam appears easily attributable to supply and demand. Leaving Boston as the population of portrait painters increased and competed for a small pool of patrons, the artist visited another colonial port city until his business slowed and another opportunity presented itself.3 Yet this essay argues that Greenwood’s visit to Surinam was not simply the early wandering of a developing itinerant portraitist. It was the product of Greenwood’s following established trade routes between New England and Surinam that were well traveled by the sea captains whose portraits he painted in both locales. While art...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813940762
MARC Record
OCLC
1020790707
Pages
316
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-16
Language
English
Open Access
N
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