An Important Portrait by Jose Francisco Xavier de Salazar y Mendoza


Jose Francisco Xavier de Salazar y Mendoza
(Spanish, 1750-1802)

"Portrait of Captain Anthony Knapp (1770-1832)", 1801

oil on canvas
signed, dated and localized "New Orleans" in Latin lower right, frame backing affixed with handwritten label of family member.
38-1/2" x 30-1/2", framed 45-1/2" x 36-3/4"

Provenance: Descended in the family of the sitter - with the son Humphrey Cook Knapp (1812-1898); his daughter Louisa Knapp Curtis (1851-1910); her daughter Mary Curtis Bok Zimbalist (1876-1970); her son Cary William Curtis (1905-1970) and his wife A. Margaret "Stormy" Bok (1920-2018); Estate of A. Margaret Bok, Rockport, Maine; Skinner, Boston, Massachusetts, August 12, 2019, lot 636; Private collection, Louisiana.

Exhibited: Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary (1885) [Exhibition]. City Hall, Council Chamber, Newbury. June 1885

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia [Loan]. 1970-1973

Literature: Celebration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Settlement of Newbury [Massachusetts]: June 10, 1885, Newburyport: Historical Society of Old Newbury, 1885, p. 134.

This imposing portrait of a young mariner painted in New Orleans exemplifies the New World; a rare portrait that merges maritime history and New England Founding Fathers with Colonial Louisiana via Caribbean trade routes. Knapp's legacy persists through the six generations through which this portrait has passed; his scions - mariners, newspaper magnates and philanthropists - were equally formative to the militia and culture of America. Captain Anthony Knapp was a direct descendent of the first settlers of Watertown, Massachusetts, later settling Essex County and the Connecticut Colony, that came over from England in 1630 with Sir Richard Saltonstall. His ancestors were all seamen following in the same exploratory path. His great grandfather, Isaac, a shipwright, served in the Quebec Expedition with the New England militia, sailing with the fleet of 700 at the Battle of Port Royal under Sir William Philips. His service was rewarded by land grants in the Canada township, and his grandfather died in the French and Indian War in the famous battle of St. Louisbourg which ended French colonialism in the Canadian Atlantic. Knapp's father, uncle William and great uncle Anthony served in the American Revolution. William commanded the New Hampshire brigantine Pallas in 1779, and Anthony, a lieutenant on the Massachusetts privateer Dalton, was captured by the British in 1777 and imprisoned in Mill Prison in England. Following his release, the elder Captain Anthony was joined at sea by the sitter, the younger Anthony Knapp until his death in 1792.

As the fine accoutrements of the dapper Captain Knapp illustrate, he was a figurehead in the mercantile trade of the Louisiana Purchase, privateering through both Spanish and French rule. He was boarded by the English; he was a victim of pirateering; he courageously defended cargos and ports during maritime warfare. He later served in the War of 1812 and was severely wounded by a musket ball in the defense of Fort Eerie against the British in 1814. From 1794-1804, the young Captain Knapp appears throughout shipping news as an accomplished captain, commanding Caribbean-bound schooners, brigantines, frigates and armed barques from Massachusetts ports to Cuba, Curacao, Martinique and Trinidad with return sojourns through New Orleans - the largest port of the South that spearheaded the cotton and sugar exports of the New World to Europe. In New Orleans, Captain Knapp would have encountered the merchant shipper Abraham Kortright Brasher, Captain Samuel Lewis, and the eponymous Major-General James Wilkinson (later 1st Governor of Louisiana), all three of whom had their portraits painted by Salazar in the two years preceding this work. Through these contemporaries, Captain Knapp likely commissioned his portrait after two maritime victories in early 1800: the capture of nine barges and four hundred prisoners from the Haitian revolutionary Andre Rigaud in the War of the South; and a gunfire battle in which looting privateers were thwarted from pirating several sloops Knapp escorted en route to Boston back from Trinidad.

Captain Knapp's portrait by Salazar, the most prominent portraitist in the city, was a statement; it was a debut into the "who's who" of the port of New Orleans. The imposing scale rendered in a classic roundel, the direct gaze and "Napoleonic" hand-in-waistcoat (a gesture of leadership) is further showcased by Knapp's dress. The fine silk pin-striped waistcoat in the patriotic red, white and blue of the new nation offset with dazzling herringbone weft, the embroidered silk bowtie with neckcloth, and the subtle, yet not so subtle, gold knop of his pocket-watch, firmly establish Knapp within the caliber of Salazar's other eminent sitters in government and military.

The importance was not lost on his progeny. Four of Knapp's sons were naval captains; his son Humphrey through which this portrait passed was a shipping merchant whose daughter Louisa was one of the most prominent philanthropists of Philadelphia, who married the newspaper tycoon Cyrus Curtis. Together they launched one of the largest publishing empires that included the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Jack and Jill, American Home and the Philadelphia Ledger, to name a few. She loaned the painting of Captain Anthony Knapp to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of Newbury, Massachusetts; her daughter and grandson, founders of the Curtis Institute of Music, loaned it again nearly a century later to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

This rare portrait, a true testament of history, affords a rare glimpse into both Colonial Creole maritime trade and the genealogy of stalwart Founding Fathers.

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