Carved Cameo Bust Portrait

Attributed to: John A. Greenough
Shell, Pearls, & 18K Gold
1 3/4” x 1 1/2” portrait framed to 2 1/4” x 1 7/8”


This sculpted miniature portrait bust from the 2003 estate sale of Wickliffe Johnson. He a descendant of Robert Wickliffe (1775-1859) an early land owner near Lexington, KY. who by some accounts the wealthiest Kentuckian during the decade of the 1840s. This portrait is one of three cameo busts, all likely by the same artist which descended to Wick Johnson, none of whom were identified as to subject. One now owned by the Speed Museum in Louisville, Ky. must be Robert Wickliffe Jr. (1816-1850) so identified from a life size marble bust by Joel T. Hart of Robert Wickliffe Sr. (also at the Speed) which very closely resembles their cameo profile miniature. Costume and age of the cameo subject precludes the identity being the elder Wickliffe. Robert Jr.’s three brothers predeceased him long enough before the sculpting of the Speed’s cameo to leave only Robert Jr. as the almost certain subject due to the resemblance of him to his father’s marble likeness by Hart. His brothers: Charles dies in 1829, with John & Benjamin both dying a month apart in 1838. That eliminates the four male issue of Robert Wickliffe Sr. as being the subject of this advertised portrait which dates circa 1850. The brothers had three sisters so the grandsons or an in-law of Robert Sr. would be the likely candidates. Did not search past the brothers so the identity can possibly be among a short list. I also own the third afore mentioned Greenough portrait, from the Wickliffe trove, of a man in his later years (though robust) portrayed in early 19th century dress. That sculpted cameo would have been taken by Greenough (circa 1850) from an earlier portrait whereas ours, seen here, possibly a sitting. The elder portrait probably a member of Robert Sr.’s family or possibly associated to one of his two wives who both contributed significantly to his considerable fortune. Bets are weighted heavily that the subject a member of Robert Sr.’s family.

John A. Greenough, as the artist, is derived from a signed and dated example of an unknown subject at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and two more unsigned examples at the Currier Museum in Manchester, N.H. The three can be viewed online. The Currier’s examples are attributed as possibly by John A. Greenough. According to The Boston Museum of Fine Arts John A. Greenough is not the brother of John (sharing a name), Horatio, Richard, nor Henry, all brothers being professional academically trained artists. Horatio is represented in the US capital with a sculpted marble full length portrait of a sitting George Washington. Richard outside the state house in Boston where a standing Ben Franklin bronze is aside an entrance. John Greenough was a landscape artist of merit who is not recorded as sculpting though there is a reference of him asking for permission to view a sculpted portrait of W.H. Prescott, by his brother Horatio, to possibly copy though the intent of which medium is unknown. According to BMFA John A. Greenough is not one of the four brothers but they speculate he is rumored an illegitimate son of Horatio, so a nephew of the other brothers if the tale is fact. Quite an extensive artistic generation with possibly John A. Greenough inheriting that legacy. The six cameos (two at the Currier, one at BMFA, one at the Speed and my two) seem to share single elements among themselves as to aspects of size; framing sensibility; period of execution; artistic level and technique to assign likelihood (although a leap) as the same artist with the BMFA’s signed and dated example. The Currier Museum prudently quotes, as they should, possibly by John A. Greenough. The Wickliffe group all appointed with pearls is not unexpected from a man who was painted by Jouett, Benjamin Trott and sculpted in marble by Hart while educating his sons at Yale and Cambridge. The 18K gold frames set with a wreath of pearls by Paul Laroche a goldsmith working in Paris, France. These examples created between 1851 and 1857 according to the mark. The pins and bracelet (when worn) were almost certainly a conversation topic among acquaintances in mid 19th century Lexington and elsewhere.