The Missing Portrait

Jane Gay Robertson Bernard by Thomas Sully. Gift of the estate of Frances Lightfoot Robb

Jane Gay Robertson Bernard by Thomas Sully. Gift of the estate of Frances Lightfoot Robb

Jane Gay Robertson, the sister of Governor Wyndham Robertson, married John Hipkins Bernard. He had inherited from his grandfather a home named “Rose Hill: in Caroline County, Va. Bernard renamed it “Gay Mont,” in honor of his wife. The home burned in the 1950’s, was rebuilt and recently reverted back to the “Rose Hill” name. It has been completely restored and was open for Garden Week this spring.

Jane Gay Robertson Bernard died July 19, 1852 at the age of fifty-seven. Her obituary describes her as “a devoted wife, a beloved and affectionate mother. . .Kind, cheerful and ever forgetful of self, loving to anticipate the wishes of those who looked up to her . . . she was sincere, ingenuous and unaffected. What she thought she expressed openly and without reserve, . . .” (Richmond Whig, August 3, 1852)

Her husband chose to commemorate her with a portrait. He chose Thomas Sully, the renowned Philadelphia based portrait painter of the nineteenth century. Sully was not only an exceptional talent, but, rare among artists, a consummate businessman and meticulous record keeper. His list of paintings stretches from 1810 to the 1860’s.
Thomas Sully was in Baltimore at the time. The entry for Mrs. Bernard reads:

Copy from Vanderlyn’s portrait for Tennent, portrait painted in Baltimore, begun Nov. 18th, 1852, finished Dec. 8th, 1852. Head. Price, $100. (Edward Biddle and Mantle Fielding, The Life and Works of Thomas Sully, N. Y. Da Capo Press, 1970, p. 97.)

So, the questions are who was Tennent who may have run the errand for Bernard and where is the Vanderlyn portrait painted from life? John Vanderlyn was also a well-known painter. Special Collections has a pencil sketch he did for a portrait of James Monroe. A search through the extensive Robb-Bernard collection held by Swem Library has not yet revealed the answer to these questions.

Pencil Sketch of James Monroe by John Vanderlyn

Pencil Sketch of James Monroe by John Vanderlyn. Mss. 39.1 M75. James Monroe Papers (folder 115)

One thought on “The Missing Portrait

  1. I am in possession of the original portrait. It was gifted to me by my mother, Frances Fenwick Edelen, a direct descendent of Gay Robertson Bernard

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