Francesco Anelli and the Clark Family Portrait

May 5th, 2023
Portrait of woman in a white gown sitting in a chair and holding a fan

Julia Tyler by Francesco Anelli (September 1844). Courtesy of the White House Historical Association

While walking through the Geneva History Museum last December a visitor became very excited when she saw the 1835 portrait of the Clark Family. The portrait was done by Francesco Anelli (1805-1878). According to the visitor, though Anelli is best known for the official White House portrait of Julia Tyler (the second wife of President John Tyler), few of his paintings have survived. She and her husband are writing a book about Julia Tyler and have become familiar with Anelli’s work.

A newsletter from May 1999 shares the story of Anelli and the Clark family portrait.

The portrait was painted by Francesco Anelli (or Francis Annellio) of New York City the year before the Clark family moved to Geneva. The subjects of the painting are the mother Mary Theresa Clark; her daughter, Mary; sons Henry (on her lap); and Lawrence. Her husband, William, N. Clark, had a separate miniature portrait done by the same artist. The Clark family purchased the Williamson House at the end of South Main Street. Mr. Clark was retired from his wife’s family business, Schiefflin & Co., druggists. While in Geneva, he associated himself with other concerns and investments.

Of the three children portrayed, Lawrence was the only one who lived to adulthood. Mary died in her early 20s of tuberculosis, and Henry died at sixteen of an accidental gunshot wound. The Clarks had a total of ten children, seven of whom were born in Geneva. Two of these died in infancy.

The artist Anelli was a portrait miniature and historical painter who was born in Italy about 1805. He came to New York City from Milan about the time he painted this portrait and was active there until 1878. His religious paintings were widely exhibits between 1845 and 1856. Anelli also exhibited at the National Academy and the Boston Athenaeum.

While no specific details about the painting of the Clark family portrait have been located, we can get an understanding of the portrait process from a diary transcript in the collection of the Frick Art Reference Library. The diary is that of Julia Lawrence Hasbrouck (1809-1873) and relates to a series of portraits done by Anelli for the family.

Sat. October 16, 1840 – Went with Mr. H. to “Anneilli’s.”  Consulted on our portraits; decided full length, in a sitting position. Could not decide on the dress.

October 21, 1840: Went with Mr. H and Sis to Mr. Annelli’s. Sat for portrait 1-1/2 hours.

October 28th: Mr. H went with me to “sit;” saw myself sketch-out – not a very agreeable take- as of yet. Cannot decide on the color of my dress. Mr. A wished blue velvet.

Nov. 10th – At twelve went with Garret to Annelli’s; decided on my dress, a bronzed satin. Feel satisfied on that score.

Portrait of woman surrounded by three children.

The Clark Family by Francesco Anelli

Dec. 10th, 1840 – Sat an hour and one half at Mr. Annelli’s. He thinks me improving, my picture, I mean. It gives me pain to see one so gentle and talented alone – a stranger in a strange land. What a pity some fortune would not bestow all she had to ____ his path way through life.

Mr. H took my boots to Mr.  Annelli. Hope he will find some improvement in my picture. It has been a source of great pleasure to me – not that my vanity is so much gratified as that my heart is penetrated by this proof of my husband’s wish to cherish my remembrance. This knowledge of the pride of my husband takes in my portrait convinces me of the fact that the original must be dear to him.

Jan. 22nd, 1841: Mr. A. was expecting us and took a half hour’s examination of my phiz. I was delighted with the picture.  The frame makes it appear quite different and shows the painting to great advantage. Garrett likes it very much, which pleases me still more. He pronounces it the handsomest picture of the portrait kind he has ever seen. We went to Mr. Annelli’s bedroom to see Garrett.

Jan 26th 1841: Catherine and Maria went to see my picture; think the dress too gay.

Feb. 17th, 1841: Garret’s portrait almost finished. I think it good but rather stiff. Mine is under Mr. Annelli’s hands for completion.

March 5, 1841: Garret has been to Mr. Annelli’s and paid him for our portraits, $900. They are much admired by strangers and much visited. Quite an attraction for Mr. Annelli’s rooms.

March 8, 1841:  Mr. H called on Mr. Anelli; he sent me a group of the children to look at; intends making their portraits to please himself. They will make a pretty little picture and when advance in years, can look back on their young years and innocent faces with profit and pleasure.

May 1st, 1841: At nine Mr. Annelli came to hand our portraits. Garrett brought a carpenter to put the hooks in. They appear only tolerable; the light is not very good for G’s; our rooms are too small and the ceilings too low. Mr. Annelli was not satisfied with them. Such beautiful portraits require more minute examination than we did on a transient inspection.

The relationship between the Hasbrouck family and Mr. Anelli appears to have continued for many years.  His apartment seems to have been located at a vantage point for viewing important event in the City, as the diary mentions watching the funeral procession of President Harrison (1841) as well as a visit by President Tyler (1843). The portrait of the family’s children was completed in 1843. The diary continues with references to visits to and from Anelli and observations about his paintings through 1866.

5 responses to “Francesco Anelli and the Clark Family Portrait”

  1. Norma Press says:

    Very interesting background information. Thank you..

  2. Jack Bryan says:

    Wasn’t there a Clark’s Drugstore at the southeast corner of Main and Castle in the 50’s and 60’s? Wondering if owners were from this same Clark family. Interesting store.

    1. Anne Dealy says:

      I don’t believe there is a connection. The druggist was A.R. Clarke, so the spelling was different. Descendants of the Clark family still live in Geneva and were the ones who gifted us the portrait.

  3. Inga-Mai Larsson-Kovach says:

    This is great information. Very interesting to read the diary transcripts. The home I believe is where Cy and Kam live today

  4. Sharon Best says:

    More likely it is where Bill and Shari Best have lived for nearly 50 years. While widely known as the Boswell House, it was inherited by Elizabeth Clark Eaton Boswell from Lawrence Clark. Cy and Kam’s house next door was the Scheiffelin house although the two families were related by marriage. Folklore has it that the families sometimes swapped houses depending on the number of children. 859 is much smaller than 839.

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