Antique Folk Portrait by Jacob Maentel
  • I’m very pleased to offer two half-length folk portraits by the very well-collected American artist Jacob Maentel. While we mostly think of Maentel as a Pennsylvania artist, he did paint many of his wonderful folk portraits in Indiana, where he moved his family in 1836 and lived until his death in 1863. In addition to his highly detailed, small watercolor portraits, Maentel painted landscape-decorated firescreens.

    Most of the Maentel likenesses that have been uncovered are full-length, some with elaborate backgrounds of interiors, some with less elaborate exterior backgrounds. It is unusual to find a half-length portrait by him. Like bust-length silhouettes by Edouart, the half-length portraits are quite desirable but, also like the bust-length Edouarts, they are more affordable than the full-length portraits. Because of the concentration on the upper body and face, half-length portraits, such as the two that I am offering in separate listings concentrate Maentel’s wonderful details on the faces, hairstyles, clothing and jewelry.

    This first lady has a pencil inscription below her bust saying “Smith”. I have, therefore, named her Ms. Smith. However, it must be remembered that pencil cannot be dated, this inscription does not have “the look” of early 19th century script, and descendants often wrote inscriptions on portraits and silhouettes decades after the sitter was gone, and based those inscriptions on oral family history which was often wrong. I’m just saying that we don’t know that this lovely young lady was really a “Smith”.

    The profile is wonderfully detailed with good vibrant colors and beautifully represents the fashions of the early 1820s. The lady wears her hair in a high Apollo knot which is held in place with a large hair comb. A single ringlet frames each side of her face. Maentel wonderfully depicted individual strands of hair. Her facial features are carefully depicted with a strong skin tone, well-done shading and individual strands of hair painted for eyebrow and eye lashes. The lady wears a gold hoop earring and a double gold beaded necklace. Her dress is cut low on the bosom, has an empire waist and short puffed sleeves. She wears a tucker of translucent white with a ruffed neck that swoops from just above her bust to high on the back of her neck. The fashions depicted are just lovely and the best of the early 2nd decade of the 19th century. Because Maentel’s portraits are thought to be fairly accurate likenesses of his sitters, I believe that “Ms. Smith” may be sisters with the young lady in the other profile listed today. Make sure to check her out also….I see a strong family resemblance between the two young women.

    Both Maentel profiles that I am listing today are from the Clarence and Mildred Long Collection of Indiana Artists. The Longs were life-long residents of Indiana who were well known for the charitable work and dedication to promoting Indiana’s history and culture. They amassed a large and enviable collection of great art by Indiana artists. They were important to the art culture of Indianapolis. Clarence was a member of the Indiana University Board of Trustees and very influential in establishing an art museum on the university campus. Mildred was a long-time volunteer and docent at Indianapolis Art Museum and served as a member of the Indiana State Arts Commission. They contributed much time and money to the addition of Indiana art in the museums of Indiana. Clarence died in 2009 and Mildred in 2013. The fact that these two Maentels were in their collection at their passing is testament to the importance of Maentel’s work and these two special portraits.

    This profile is housed in a lovely, very well-done, reproduction paint decorated frame. The frame, while not period, provides the perfect period look for this lovely folk painting. The paper shows some spotting and has a horizontal crease which shows it was folded in the middle. There are other assorted light creases and brown spotting throughout. Still, the colors are vibrant and the paper has just a small amount of toning (more of a yellowing than browning). The vibrancy is probably thanks to have been folded and tucked away from light for much of its life. The paper is floated on conservation ragboard. The reverse of the frame has a trade label for “Stephen Gemberling / Americana / Framing – Restoration” with a York, Pennsylvania address. On the lower part of the label is an inscription saying “Miss Smith of York Pa by Jacob Mantael c. 1812”. (Mantael is an alternate spelling which is not often used now.) I really haven’t found much about Mr. Gemberling except a 1977 advertisement in The Clarion (the Folk Art Museum’s magazine) giving an New York City address. The provenance given for these two paintings are that the Longs privately purchased them in 1977. Please note that I disagree with the period inscribed on the trade label. Ms. Smith’s clothing indicates late 1810s to early 1820s. I believe that 1812 is a few years too early for her hairstyle. Framed size 9 ¼” x 8 ½”. Sight size 5” x 4”. This is a fabulous piece of American folk art from an important collection. Make sure you check out the other Maentel being listed.

    (#5490)      $6500

    Provenance:  Clarence and Mildren Long Collection of Indiana Artists

    Please see the Folk Portrait Artists page for more information about Jacob Maentel .