Tisdale, Elkanah - portrait of a man

Although unsigned this miniature has been attributed to Elkanah Tisdale (26 Sep 1771-1 May 1835). His miniatures have been described as extremely rare, thus this is a lucky acquisition.

Tisdale was born in Lebanon CT, where his father had trained as a lawyer, but Elkanah went and worked as an engraver in New York City between 1794 and 1798 where he met Benjamin Trott.

He advertised as a miniature painter in New York between 1809 and 1812 and in Boston from 1813-1818. He was a founder of the short-lived Hartford Graphic and Bank Note Engraving Company. He was also a cartoonist and two versions of his cartoon on gerrymandering which appeared in the Boston Globe in 1812 are shown here. It is one of the most famous of all American political cartoons.

The term is derived from the name of Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, whose administration enacted a law in 1812 defining new state senatorial districts. The revisions gave disproportionate representation to the Republicans. By examining a map of Essex County, it became quite clear to the Federalists what the Republicans were trying to accomplish.

The Boston Gazette waggishly said that the elongated, sinuous district resembled a salamander; the editor of the Boston Weekly Messenger opined, even more waggishly, “Salamander? Call it a Gerrymander!”, dubbing it with a portmanteau composed of the last name of the governor (Republican Eldridge Gerry, who signed the plan into law) and the word salamander. The Weekly Messenger cartoonist Elkanah Tisdale ran with it, and produced the first known picture of the now-famous political animal. The satirical cartoon by Elkanah Tisdale appeared in the Boston Gazette; it graphically transformed the districts into a fabulous animal, "The Gerry-mander," fixing the term in the public mind.

The reason for the attribution of this miniature to Elkanah Tisdale is the marked similarity of style to a signed miniature portrait of James Fowle Baldwin by Elkanah Tisdale in the Manney Collection which is dated 1817, (fig 240).

Johnson also observes; "The few miniatures by Tisdale that are known, reveal the influence of Trott. Tisdale's early oval miniature portraits, like Trott's display a highly skilled use of the glowing ivory surface to create luminous skin tones and give life to the background. The complex cross-hatching that models the face and the broad, dark cross-hatching in the background are also similar to Trott's. Early miniatures by Tisdale portray handsome people arranged in a three-quarter pose. Later he adopted a rectangular format and his technique became more exacting and precise, probably because of his work in engraving. In some miniatures there is a single source of light that creates dramatic contrasts."

In this example, as with the miniature of Baldwin, the broad dark cross-hatching in the background is clear, but is not as dominant in the overall tone of the miniature as Johnson's comment might suggest.

There is a comprehensive article about Elkanah Tisdale in the Connecticut Historical Bulletin for Spring 1984, volume 49, number 2.

The sitter in this miniature is unknown, but from his costume and high collar, it would date to about 1815. 1288

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