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Portrait of Ann "Nancy" Branford (Mrs. Thomas) Horry, 1754-1817,
Jeremiah Theus (1716-1774)

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Oil on canvas
30 x 25 inches
Status: Available

The Swiss-born portrait painter, Jeremiah Theus was the chief chronicler of the visages of South Carolina’s colonial gentry for more than thirty years.  His portraits constitute a visual and family-history record of the British colony in a manner that may be as valuable to generations of descendants, scholars, and connoisseurs as the well-preserved collections of the colonial-era South-Carolina Gazette newspaper have been for two and a half centuries for South Carolina and southern historians.  Another, more imaginative comparison might be made between Theus’s body of work and the illustrations of lowcountry and Caribbean flora and fauna that Mark Catesby created and published in his Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1727‒47).  For most of the eighteenth century the South-Carolina Gazette was the foremost source of political, social, economic, religious, cultural, and genealogical information on the British colony and all of its classes of people.  Catesby’s Natural History was the starting point for scientific inquiry into the natural history of the British colony.  In much the same way as these works, Theus’s portraits survive as fine art repositories for the sorts of bedrock, primary-source information—social, economic, and cultural—that has proven so important to our understanding of eighteenth-century South Carolina.  His portraits offer not only stylized depictions of the physical appearances of colonial south Carolina’s wealthy, influential class but also they contain a cornucopia of visual information on fashions of clothing, jewelry, hair styles, and other accessories of daily life.  His depictions complement fully the information contained in the South-Carolina Gazette, myriad business records, personal letters, public records, and material culture sources that exist for eighteenth-century South Carolina.  If Theus had not worked almost exclusively in Charleston from circa 1740 until his death in 1774 other portraitists would have found employment but those others would have been unlikely to have created so many portraits—the exact number is unknown but certainly more than three hundred—of extended family groups and of successive generations of Elliotts, Ravenels, Izards, Mottes, Branfords, and Horrys.  It is the career he made in Charleston for such a long time, the success of his works, and the eagerness with which South Carolinians gave Theus their patronage that make his life and career so important to American and southern art history.

Theus’s portrait of Ann Branford Horry is a good example of the ways that a work of art can be valuable as a visual historical document and of the roles that the artist and his patrons played in defining and preserving South Carolina’s social history.  Although the date it was painted is uncertain, its appearance suggests that it was painted during the latter years of the artist’s life—perhaps as late as the 1770s.  As a physical object the portrait preserves its subject’s physical appearance, offers viewers stylized images of costumes and accessories.  As a primary-source document of social history, the portrait is a large, tangible document that linked by marriage, economic interests, and social values two prominent colonial-era families—the Branfords of the Ashley River region and the Horrys of Georgetown and the Santee River.   As a valued heirloom the portrait’s history and provenance link the extended Branford/Horry families past present and future and guarantee its place among a distinguished body of work by a prominent American artist. 

Born April 5, 1716, at Chur, a city in one of the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland, Jeremiah Theus immigrated to South Carolina with his parents in 1735.  The family settled in Orangeburgh Township, on the Edisto River.  At the time Orangeburgh and other townships were established on the colony’s western frontier to defend the region from Native Americans and also incursions by settlers from other European nations.  Within five years Theus had resettled in the metropolis of Charleston and established himself as a “limner,” or painter of portraits as well as an art teacher and painter of commercial signs, coats of arms, and other graphic arts enterprises.  For the next thirty years, until his death on May 17, 1774, Theus was the foremost portrait painter active within the South Carolina colony.  The painters James Earl, John Wollaston, and others visited Charleston occasionally, where they created important portraits of the lowcountry gentry and aspiring colonial aristocracy.  But Theus found sufficient work to remain in Charleston throughout his career.  By virtue of this perseverance in the city of Charleston, he painted as many as three hundred portraits that were both multi-generational depictions of distinguished members of significant families as well as literal visual representations of the marital, social, and business connections that formed the fabric of life in colonial South Carolina. 

One measure of the value of Theus’s portraits as fine art and primary-source social history sources is the number of museums and galleries that own them.  The Gibbes Museum of Art, Columbia Museum of Art, the Greenville County Museum of Art, and The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, own numerous Theus portraits.  Because these institutions are within South Carolina the family-history contexts and personal associations with patrons might be a determining factor in their ownership.  When such diverse institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, National Park Service, National Gallery and National Portrait Galleries in Washington, DC, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and Museum of Early Southern Decorative Art include Theus’s works in their collections they recognize how important his portraits are as primary-source records of American art, social, and economic history.  On the other hand, an examination of the Art Inventories records of the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS) reveals that many Theus portraits have remained in private ownership, often in the hands of descendants of people depicted in them.  The careful stewardship of these portraits through the centuries testifies to the value the works have in epitomizing family histories as well as their role in what might be considered visual genealogies of eighteenth-century South Carolina’s colonial aristocracy.  Theus painted portraits of at least nine member of the Ball family as well a comparable numbers of Elliott, Manigault, Izard, and Ravenel family members.  Within his lifetime, Theus gave faces to the members of what Walter Edgar has called the “vast cousinage” of colonial South Carolina.  Ownership of these portraits today gives evidence that this vast cousinage—at least the veneration of family history and stewardship of family lore—have persisted through nearly three centuries.   His portraits of two generations of Branford and Horry family members are cultural artifacts that serve as examples of the numerous ways in which the artist—and his sitters—are so valuable to today’s scholars and collectors.

Ann “Nancy” Branford was born was born November 30, 1754, the daughter of William Branford III (d. 1772) and Elizabeth Savage Branford (c. 1730‒1801).  At the age of seventeen she wed Thomas Horry (1748‒1820) on June 13, 1772, at Saint Andrews Parish Church on the Ashley River.  Theus’s portrait of Ann Branford Horry is that of a mature woman and not a youthful bride; so, it is likely that he painted it after Ann Branford’s marriage to Horry; perhaps in the latter years of his career.  The sitter’s dress, with its scooped neckline, large bow, and especially the strings of beads looped along the bodice resemble dresses depicted in Theus’s three-quarters length portrait of Elizabeth Wragg (Mrs. Peter) Manigault (1736‒1773), painted in 1757, and that of Mary Mazyck (Mrs. William) Mazyck (1744‒1829).  A distinguishing feature of the Ann Branford Horry portrait is that it depicts the sitter holding a book and marking a place in it with her finger.  Of the many portraits by Theus, only two other works—his portraits of Rebecca Breitnall (Mrs. Edward) Weyman (1729‒1795) and Sarah Jones (Mrs. Rawlins) Lowndes (1756‒1801)—are known to include that feature.  Attention to these elements in Theus’s portraits suggest that he often used similar designs, especially of costumes, throughout his career; for, his early and late works include dresses and accessories that are similar in appearance.  Ann Branford Horry died May 12, 1817, and her spouse, Thomas Horry, died January 5, 1820.  Both are interred in the churchyard of the Cathedral of Saint Luke and Saint Paul, Charleston, SC.   This portrait was purchased in 1960 by Margaret Simons Middleton, the author of Jeremiah Theus: Colonial Artist of Charles Town (1953) from a private owner in Camden, SC.  Ownership has remained in the family of Mrs. Middleton and her descendants to the present day.

Theus enjoyed the patronage of extended families and of two, and rarely three generations of lowcountry aristocrats.  This circumstance is evident in the works that he created for the Branfords and Horrys.  In addition to his portrait of Ann Branford Horry, Theus also painted Ann’s sister, Elizabeth Branford (1752‒85), who wed Elias Horry (1745‒85) the brother of Thomas Horry.  In this case two sisters wed two brothers.  He also painted a portrait of “Young William Branford” (1756‒76), Ann and Elizabeth’s younger brother.  This portrait is distinguished because the sitter holds in his hands a shuttlecock and battledore, the instruments for playing badminton.  This portrait of the youthful William Branford was in a private collection in Camden, SC; is now in a private collection in Alabama.  A miniature of him believed to be painted by Theus is owned privately in Charleston, SC.  The young man went to Great Britain to further his education but was killed in a fall from a window.  Theus also painted portraits of William Branford III (d. 1772) and Elizabeth Savage (Mrs. William) Branford, parents of the three siblings.  These two portraits were owned in the 1950s by family descendants who lived in Camden, SC.  Theus’s portrait of Ann’s sister, Elizabeth Branford Horry, is reproduced in color and in black-and-white in the National Society of Colonial Dames publication, South Carolina Portraits (1996), pages 168 and 251.  The Gibbes Museum/ Carolina Art Association owns miniature portraits created by Henry Benbridge and Charles Fraser, copied from the Theus portrait of Elizabeth Savage Branford.  It also owns a Fraser miniature of William Branford (d. 1772).  The Fraser miniatures of Ann Branford Horry’s parents are dated 1845.

Portraits from the eighteenth and nineteenth century have yet to achieve their full potential as primary-source artifacts.  They confront viewers with as many opportunities as the number of questions they raise.  In fact, those portraits for which the artist, sitter, date of creation, and provenance answer some vital questions regarding the eras in which they were created and of the successive years in which they are preserved, neglected, damaged, and copied.  Portraits with mysteries attached to them with regard to the subjects, the painters, time and place of creation challenge scholars and collectors to look hard at the images themselves to draw from them the immediate truths—the primary-source information—with which they are endowed.  Jeremiah Theus’s portrait of Ann “Nancy” Branford Horry yields valuable information above and beyond what we see as we admire it. 

References

Eastman, Margaret Middleton Rivers et al., The Huguenot Church in Charleston (History Press, 2018), 287‒9.

Middleton, Margret Simons. Jeremiah Theus: Colonial Artist of Charles Town (1953; revised edition, USC Press, 1991), 61, 117‒8.

“Ann Nancy Horry.” https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/33589926/ann-nancy-horry, accessed March 29, 2019, Alexander Moore.

“Elias Lynch Horry et al. vs. Thomas Horry and Ann his wife (1802).” in Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Court of Chancery of the State of South-Carolina . . . ed. by Henry W. DeSaussure (Columbia, 1817), II: 117‒27.

Marriage Notice of Thomas Horry and Ann Branford, June 13, 1772.” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 15, no. 1 (January 1914): 50.

National Society of Colonial Dames. South Carolina Portraits.  A Collection of Portraits of South Carolinians and Portraits in South Carolina (Columbia, 1996), color plate 21 and page 168, “Mrs. Elias Horry III (Elizabeth Branford).

Rutledge, Anna Wells. Artists in the Life of Charleston Through Colony and State from Restoration to Reconstruction (1949; revised edition, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1980), 114, 220.

Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS), Jeremiah Theus, https://siris-artinventories.si.edu/ipac20/ipac.jsp?session=1C54I77219915.10370&menu=search&aspect=Keyword&npp=50&ipp=20&spp=20&profile=ariall&ri=&term=&index=.GW&x=0&y=0&aspect=Keyword&term=Theus%2C+jeremiah&index=.AW&term=&index=.TW&term=&index=.SW&term=&index=.FW&term=&index=.OW&term=&index=.NW, accessed March 31, 2019, Alexander Moore.

“Thomas Horry.” https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/33589742/thomas-horry, accessed March 29, 2019, Alexander Moore.

 

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