PHILADELPHIA — An oil on canvas portrait of Major General Thomas Pinckney (1750-1828) painted by Samuel Finley Breese Morse (1791-1828) was the top lot at Freeman’s American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts sale November 12 when it sold for $187,500, including buyer’s premium, on a $100,000 high estimate. The 43-by-38-inch work had been exhibited in 1972 and 1991 at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
“He’s a very significant South Carolinian,” said Lynda Cain, vice president and department head at Freeman’s. “It is a rare portrait, and it descended in the family until it came to auction.”
The painting was purchased by the American Revolution Institute of The Society of the Cincinnati, where it will go on indefinite display in the Anderson House on Embassy Row in Washington, DC. Major General Thomas Pinckney was a founding member and fourth president general of The Society of the Cincinnati, the oldest patriotic organization in the United States, founded in 1783. The Institute said, “We are making plans to display the portrait, along with other art and artifacts related to the American Revolution, in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2022, where we are working with the South Carolina Historical Society and other institutions to focus attention on the American Revolution. Furthermore, we hope to find an opportunity to display the portrait at the new museum devoted to the American Revolution now under construction in Camden, South Carolina. That museum is a project of the Historic Camden Foundation, which also preserves the battlefield of Camden — where Thomas Pinckney was critically wounded on August 16, 1780, in one of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War.”
“We are proud to be the stewards of this important portrait,” said Jack Warren, executive director of the American Revolution Institute, “and will make use of it to promote understanding and appreciation of the constructive achievements of the American Revolution. We are especially grateful to the dozens of donors who have supported this important acquisition. We couldn’t do anything without their support.”
Among notable moments in his life, Major General Thomas Pinckney was elected Governor of South Carolina in 1787 and presided over the South Carolina State Convention to ratify the Constitution. From 1792 to 1796, Pinckney held the position of Minister to Britain under President George Washington and in 1795 was asked to serve as a special envoy to Spain. In that role, Pinckney negotiated the Treaty of San Lorenzo, which granted Americans the use of the Port of New Orleans with access to the Mississippi River.
Morse also painted the portrait of Major General Pinckney’s brother, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. A contemporaneous June 16, 1818, note from the artist’s uncle spoke to the portrait offered here: “I saw old General C.C. Pinckney yesterday, and he told me in his laughing, humourous way, that he had requested you to draw his brother Thomas twenty years younger than he really was, so as to be a companion to his own when he was twenty years older than at this time, and to flatter him, as he had directed Stuart to do.”
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