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Isaiah Thomas, Mary Thomas Fowle Thomas, and Mary Weld Thomas Pastels


Isaiah Thomas



ISAIAH THOMAS (1749-1831), 1804
Attr. to Gerrit Schipper (1775-c. 1830)
pastel on paper
Isaiah Thomas: 8 13/16 x 7 13/16 (22.4 x 19.8)
Gift of Frances Crocker Sloane, 1945
Weis #119
Hewes #124

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ISAIAH THOMAS (1749-1831), 1804
Attributed to Gerrit Schipper (1775-c. 1830)
pastel on paper
8 11/16 x 7 7/8 (22.3 x 20)
inscribed on verso of frame by sitter: "Isaiah Thomas, 1804, aged 55 when this picture was taken."
Partial gift of Leonard C. Couch, partial purchase of Charles L. Nichols, 1920.
Weis #118
Hewes #126

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MARY WELD THOMAS (c. 1768-1825), c. 1804
Attributed to Gerrit Schipper (1775-c. 1830)
pastel on paper
8 3/4 x 7 7/8 (22.2 x 19.9)
Gift of Chauncey Nash, 1951
Hewes #132

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MARY THOMAS FOWLE THOMAS (1750-1818), 1804
Attr. to Gerrit Schipper (1775-c. 1830)
pastel on paper
Mary Thomas Fowle Thomas: 8 3/4 x 7 7/8 (22.2 x 20)
Gift of Frances Crocker Sloane, 1945
Weis #126
Hewes #125

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Mary Thomas


These pastel portraits of members of the Thomas family are part of a group attributed to the Dutch artist Gerrit Schipper and drawn during his 1804 visit to Worcester. In addition to those of Isaiah Thomas, Sr., his wife Mary T. Fowle Thomas, his daughter-in-law Mary Weld Thomas (and her sister Hannah Weld of Boston) in the AAS collection, are profiles of Isaiah Thomas, Jr.(2)

Schipper arrived in New York in 1802, after sojourns in Brussels, Paris, and Russia, and began producing chalk profile portraits. He spent part of 1803 in Boston and moved in the spring of 1804 to Salem, Massachusetts, where he might have met Isaiah Thomas, Jr., who often managed the portion of the Thomas family's printing empire on the North Shore. In August 1804, Schipper took an advertisement in the Massachusetts Spy. 'G. Schipper, an eminent painter from Germany, has it in contemplation to visit Worcester, in order to favor those Ladies and Gentlemen who may wish to have correct likenesses taken; he executes them in colored crayons, set in an elegant frame and glazed for Ten Dollars, and if not an approved likeness, no payment will be expected; he requires but one sitting of three quarters of an hour. Specimens of his painting may be seen by applying to Isaiah Thomas, Jun.'(3) A second advertisement, placed after his arrival in Worcester, also noted that examples of his work could be viewed on request to Isaiah Thomas, Jr.(4) During his stay in Worcester, Schipper drew profile pastels of several Thomas family members, including the additional portrait of Mary T. Fowle Thomas (wearing a dark dress) and of Isaiah, Jr.(5)

Mary T. Fowle Thomas was the second wife of Isaiah Thomas, Sr. The widow of Isaac Fowle (d. 1777), she was Isaiah Thomas's cousin, and they were married on May 26, 1779. Mary, who had two daughters by her earlier marriage, raised Thomas's two children by his first wife. 'As the head of a family, she was faithful to the charge committed to her, and endeavored with scrupulous exactness to perform her duty towards those over whom she was called to exercise her protection and care.... Her heart always melted to the tale of woe, and her hand was never slow to follow its sacred impulse.'(6) This pair of pastels descended through the Thomas family. In 1928, when they were offered for sale, Clarence Brigham, the librarian of the American Antiquarian Society, sought the funds to purchase them by appealing to descendants of Isaiah Thomas. 'Not a day passes,' Brigham wrote, 'but that we have inquiry in some way regarding Isaiah Thomas or that we fail to recognize our indebtedness to the scholar and philanthropist that founded this Society over a century ago.... If there is any place in the world that these two portraits ought to be preserved permanently, it is in this Library building.'(7) The pastels were purchased by a family member who retained them for seventeen years before donating them to the Society in 1945.

Mary Weld Thomas, wife of Isaiah Thomas, Jr. was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and grew up in Boston. Her father was a prosperous merchant and property owner. In 1797 she married Isaiah Thomas, Jr., the son of the founder of the American Antiquarian Society, and, like his father, a printer and publisher. She was the mother of twelve children, six girls and six boys.(8)

The pastel (#124) once thought to be the work of William Doyle (1769-1828) has been reattributed to Gerrit Schipper. One of a group of drawings attributed to this artist, the 1804 date was inscribed by Isaiah Thomas, Sr. on his, his wife's and Hannah Weld's portraits. The attribution of other family pastels (#126, 132) to Schipper is a relatively recent development. Considered the work of James Sharples (c. 1751-1811), research revealed that Sharples was in England during 1804 when the image was drawn.(9) Later, they were thought to be the work of William Doyle (1769-1828) because of an 1805 receipt among the Thomas papers documenting a payment to Doyle for several miniatures.(10) In 1990 similarities were noted between these images and the pastel of Isaiah Thomas attributed to Gerrit Schipper. This observation suggests that these profiles might also be the work of that artist or copied after Schipper's work.(11)


1)   These pastels may be the images bequeathed in 1831 by Isaiah Thomas, Sr. to his grandson Isaiah Thomas III (b. 1810). See Charles Nichols, The Portraits of Isaiah Thomas (Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1921), 9.

2)   Jeanne Riger, 'New Light on Gerrit Schipper, the Painter,' The Clarion 15 (Winter 1990): 65-70, and Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 61 (October 1951): 232.

3)   Worcester Spy, August 1, 1804, 3. The advertisement also ran on August 8th, 15th, 22nd.

4)   Worcester Spy, September 12, 1804, 3, and September 19, 1804, 4.

5)   Riger, 'New Light on Gerrit Schipper,' 66. Photographs of the second portraits of Mary Thomas Fowle Thomas and Isaiah Thomas, Jr., are on file at the American Antiquarian Society and the Frick Art Reference Library (FARL #50673, #50672).

6)   Obituary of Mary Fowle Thomas, Massachusetts Spy, November 25, 1818.

7)   Clarence Brigham to Mrs. William Sloane, October 31, 1928, American Antiquarian Society Archives.

8)   Charles Frederick Robinson, Weld Collections (Ann Arbor, Michigan: privately printed, 1938), 100-01.

9)   John Hill Morgan to Clarence Brigham, July 2, 1937, American Antiquarian Society Archives.

10)   Frederick Weis, 'Portraits in the American Antiquarian Society,' Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 56 (April 1946): 118-19.

11)   See the 1951-52 correspondence between Hannah Johnson Howell of the Frick Art Reference Library and Clarence Brigham, American Antiquarian Society Archives, and Riger, 'New Light on Gerrit Schipper,' 66.

Thomas Isaiah
Thomas Mary
Weld Thomas Mary
Thomas Fowle Thomas

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