Birmingham Museum of Art Acquires painting by Jane Stuart

The Birmingham Museum of Art recently added a painting to its American Gallery that has special resonance in Perry County: a portrait of the county’s namesake, American Naval hero Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. The portrait strikingly depicts Perry (1785 – 1819), popularly known as the “Hero of Lake Erie,” for his role in achieving a decisive victory against the British at the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.

In the battle, fought on September 10, 1813, off the coast of Ohio, Perry and his compatriots captured six British ships and ensured American control of the lake for the remainder of the war. After the battle, Perry wrote to General William Henry Harrison (1773 – 1841), later ninth president of the United States, informing him of the victory with the now famous words, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

Founded just a few years after the war, in 1819, Perry County was named in honor of Oliver Hazard Perry, as were counties in nine other states, and numerous other geographic locations.

The portrait of Perry at the BMA was painted in 1857 by Jane Stuart, the youngest daughter of Gilbert Stuart (1755 – 1828), who is perhaps best known for his portraits of George Washington. Jane Stuart’s Perry portrait is based on an earlier bust-length version (1818-28, Toledo Museum of Art), which her father began and which Jane completed after his death. Both artist and subject were native Rhode Islanders and the portrait was one of nine portraits of the distinguished men of Rhode Island presented to Brown University on August 21, 1857.

“In the portrait, Perry wears the insignia badge of the Society of the Cincinnati—commonly called the eagle—suspended from a light blue ribbon trimmed in white protruding from his coat, “ said Graham Boettcher, Ph.D., the Museum’s Curator of American Art. “Founded in 1783, the Society originally consisted of American and French officers who had served in the Revolutionary War, with membership subsequently passed down through their direct male descendants. Although Perry’s father had served as a midshipman during the Revolution, his service was too brief to qualify him for membership. Following his brilliant victory at the Battle of Lake Erie, Perry was made an honorary member of the Society in New York.”

Birmingham Museum of Art
2000 Rev. Abraham Woods, Jr. Blvd
(formerly 2000 8th Ave. N.)
Birmingham, Alabama 35203
T: 205.254.2565
F: 205.254.2714

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