Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Case of Mistaken Identity Revisited

Since my visit to Montana for a National Parks Service illustration project nearly two years ago, I'm afraid I've neglected this blog. I've been terribly busy with various illustrating, writing, and other projects. But, like Mole in the chapter, "Dulce Domum," in Kenneth Grahame's classic Wind in the Willows, I was called irresistibly back today, though in my case because of an email. 

In 2015, I posted an essay about a portrait identified at various sites online as María Ursula de Veramendi, wife of Alamo legend James "Jim" Bowie.

I was surprised that the evidence I presented against this being a portrait of Mrs. Bowie, which seemed obvious to me, was not accepted by some who continued to insist that this was her genuine likeness simply because it was said by a descendant to have been her. My evidence included the subject's style of hair and clothing - more typical of the 1840s than the early 1830s (María de Veramendi died in 1833), and the fact that Mrs. Bowie seems never to have left Texas prior to her death at the age of 21, and yet there was no known portrait artist of this level of skill working in Texas at this time. Nevertheless, I let the matter drop because, frankly, I had other things to do. 

Recently, though, I was contacted by a descendant of James Bowie's brother, Rezin, who sent me scans of two portraits said to be of his daughters, Martha and Mathilda. They are from Louisiana Portraits, a 1975 publication of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in the State of Louisiana. I was surprised to see the alleged portrait of María de Veramendi identified as that of Martha Bowie, Rezin's elder daughter. However, it also states that Martha was born in 1791, which means that she would have been in her fifties if she sat for this portrait in the 1840s. So, clearly, there is still some confusion over just who this woman was. 

In my blog posting, I suggested that rather than Mrs. Bowie (María de Veramendi), this might be a portrait of Rezin's younger daughter, Matilda or Mathilda, who was born in 1816. That would have meant she was still in her twenties in the early 1840s. This publication of the Colonial Dames has another portrait that they believe is Mathilda, and state her year of birth as 1818. However, she is dressed in the fashions of the late 1840s or perhaps the early 1850s, which would have meant that Mathilda was in her thirties when she sat for it, and this lady looks younger to me.

So, it remains a mystery. As I see it, the Bowie family traditions are mistaken about just who these two young women were, based on the fashions worn by the sitters. But clearly (at least to me) neither of them is María Ursula de Veramendi, wife of the legendary Jim Bowie. 

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