Hannah Bours (Babcock) (c.1742 - 1796)

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Birthplace: Rhode Island, USA
Death: Died in Newport, Newport, Rhode Island, USA
Managed by: Judith Ann Owen
Last Updated:

About Hannah Bours (Babcock)

From findagrave.com:

Birth: 1742

Death: Dec 17 1796

Burial: Common Burial Grnd, Newport, Newport Co, RI, USA

From http://www.worcesterart.org/Collection/Early_American/Artists/blackburn/hannah/discussion.html:

Hannah Babcock b Jan 22 1743 to Dr Joshua Babcock (1707–1783) & Hannah Stanton Babcock (1714–1778), in Westerly, RI, town abt 30 mi west of Newport. She was 16 when Blackburn painted her portrait. Hannah was 4th of 9 children & oldest of 5 girls. Her father, mbr of class of 1724 at Yale, studied medicine in Boston & London & practiced in Westerly abt 1/4-century. Babcock owned 6000-acre plantation operated by Narragansett Indians, ran thriving retail business, & was Westerly’s 1st postmaster. He is said to have been appointed to this office by Benjamin Franklin, mezzotint of whom hung in Babcock house amg family’s own portraits. Babcock was active in politics, serving in Genl Assembly for 9 yrs & as Chief Justice of Supreme Crt of colony for 16. He would later prove to be ardent patriot, serving as maj genl of RI militia. His newspaper obit read, in part:

As Patriot—Magistrate—Physician—his Character shone conspicuous.—In domestic Walks of Life, let Wise—Child—Servant—Friend & Neighbour witness, that, few equalled, none surpassed him. Hannah m John Bours (1734–1815) at Trinity Church, Newport, Jul 7 1762. Families of young couple were acquainted because Dr Babcock & John’s father, Peter Bours (c1705/06–1761), served together in colonial genl assembly. Hannah bore 11 children, 1st 5 of whom died in childhood, 4 in infancy. John Bours was merchant at Sign of Golden Eagle, Thames St, where he sold Eng, Continental, & West Indian imports, including fabrics, metals, jewelry, sugar, rice, coffee, tea, wine, rum, raisins, lemons, & spices. For many yrs, he was treas of Redwood Library in Newport, & served on its board of directors. He also was active in Trinity Church as vestryman & church warden; in 1782 Bours acted as lay reader in absence of minister, & 2 yrs later, he declined request that he "enter into holy orders & become their minister." Hannah Babcock Bours’s gravestone reads simply: "Sacred/ May this stone long remain/ Tribute of Affection/ to memory of/ HANNAH BOURS/ wife of JOHN BOURS/ and DAUGHTER of/ JOSHUA BABCOCK/ late of Westerly/ in this state/ who died Decembr 17th 1796/ aged 54 years."

Analysis:

When Dr Babcock commissioned Joseph Blackburn in 1759 to paint his dtr’s portrait, artist had moved from Boston to Portsmouth, NH. This suggests the artist continued to travel to accept commissions, since his 1st portraits on North Am mainland were painted in Newport in 1754. Blackburn’s skill at painting costume is evident in this portrait, where he has convincingly represented lustrous surface of satin & delicate character of lace. Hannah’s generalized features, consisting of soft, nearly geometric volumes, suggest portrait is as much idealization of female beauty as it is carefully delineated likeness. Her smooth features & light skin convey her youth & comeliness, & her erect posture demonstrates her feminine grace. This painting also is typical of Blackburn in that it casts sitter in fantasy drawn from English rococo mezzotint. Hannah Babcock is represented in pose, costume, & setting all borrowed from Thomas Hudson’s portrait of his dtr, Miss Hudson, which Blackburn prob had avl in print by John Faber, Jr. (d 1756) aft original. Blackburn’s 3/4-length composition, in place of whole length in Faber’s print after Hudson, tightened focus on figure & eliminated dog at bottom right. Whereas dress follows Hudson closely in its overall contours & especially its folds, Blackburn substituted few flowers for lrg plumed hat, opened neckline substantially, & adjusted position of pearls that decorate the bodice. In Hudson’s portrait, pearls support portrait in miniature, & in Blackburn’s they are simply ornamental. Blackburn also crossed right hand over instead of under left 1 & lowered plume to follow billow of the skirt more closely. Blackburn’s reflection of Hudson’s style & poses has led some scholars to speculate that Hudson may have been younger painter’s master. Hudson’s portrait, in turn, owes its composition largely to Peter Paul Rubens’s Helena Fourment, which had entered famous Eng collection of Sir Robert Walpole c1730. Rubens’ portrait remained influential in London well beyond Blackburn’s departure for colonies, inspiring addl portraits by Hudson as well as by Thomas Gainsborough, Jos Highmore, John Hoppner, Jos van Aken, Allan Ramsay, Sir Joshua Reynolds, & Geo Romney. Wearing Van Dyck costume was popular in London in 1730-40s, & being portrayed in this manner would have been statement of sitter’s sophistication. For Am sitter, aspirations to fashionability were well served by this model. Copley borrowed from same source in his portrait Mrs Samuel Quincy (Hannah Hill) (c1764, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), perhaps following lead of Blackburn, who had decided impact on native-born painter in late 1750s. Copley might have had opportunity to see Blackburn’s Hannah Babcock when he painted his likeness of young woman’s husband, John Bours, though place & time of that commission have not been firmly established. Costume portraits were popular in 18th-century London, where sitters might actually dress as they appeared in such portraits for masquerade balls. As Horace Walpole noted in 1742 letter, at 1 masquerade he saw "quantities of Vandykes, & all kinds of old pictures walked out of their frames." In more obvious pictorial reference to costume than found in Hannah Babcock, portrait Sarah Riddell Harvey (c1752–53, private collection, Bermuda), Blackburn depicted young woman holding black mask. Despite this continuity of interest bet London & colonies, costume historian Aileen Ribeiro argues Am women did not have opportunity to wear such clothes to costume balls. Their identification w/London vogue for Van Dyck costume was limited to imagination, & its realization in portraiture. Jos Blackburn enjoyed extended patronage from Babcock family, earning from its mbrs at least 3 other commissions—paint Hannah’s bro, father, & mother, all 3/4-length, over 5-yr period: Colonel Harry Babcock; Dr Joshua Babcock; & Mrs Joshua Babcock (Hannah Stanton). Altho Blackburn is not usually commended for capturing character of his sitters, in 4 Babcock portraits he successfully portrayed distinctive roles of young & old, male & female in 18th-century polite society. Whereas Hannah Babcock appears appropriately feminine & demure, Blackburn represented her older bro Harry (1736–1800) w/swaggering self-assurance befitting aspiring military officer who was already veteran of French & Indian War. Their parents, by contrast, are depicted in upright, seated poses that evoke greater reserve & seriousness than those of their children. 1 historian of RI noted Dr Babcock & several of his contemporaries "owned valuable libraries," distinction suggested in Blackburn’s portrait. Babcock holds a book in his right hand, marking his place w/his index finger; 2 more books rest under his arm. 1 of Dr Babcock’s students testified to his erudition, saying he led family worship from Bible in Greek. When Hannah’s father died, his probate inventory recorded "4 Family Portrait Pictures" valued at 12 pounds; reference is probably to these 4 works by Blackburn. Babcock house was also decorated w/13 mezzotints, framed map of CT, &, in bedroom upstairs, another family portrait & 4 pictures painted on glass. Babcock & Bours families were devotees of portraits: Hannah’s bro Adam (1740–1817) & wife Abigail Smith Babcock (1744–1777) later commissioned oil portraits from Copley & Gilbert Stuart & miniatures of Adam by Henry Pelham after Copley, as well as miniatures of 2 of their children by Edward Malbone; John Bours’s bro, Rev Peter Bours (1726–1762), also sat for Blackburn. John Singleton Copley produced portrait of Hannah’s husband c1760–62. John Bours is painted on same scale & also in 3/4-length format; perhaps it was intended to hang as pendant to his wife’s depiction by Blackburn. Bours is seated & faces right, w/book in his right hand & his left hand lifted to his brow. He is set outdoors in loosely brushed landscape that resembles 1 in Hannah Babcock’s portrait; similarly smoky hues are lightened w/peach-colored clouds. 2 paintings are framed nearly identically in solid, shallow-carved frames further suggests they may have hung in Bours house as pair. In 1 respect, however, these portraits are strikingly different: mood of whimsy & emphasis on fashion & display in Hannah’s portrait contrast sharply w/sense of introspection in John’s. Dr Babcock’s probate inventory further supports idea the portrait of Hannah hung in her father’s house until his death in 1783. Prob, both pictures were together aft that, as they descended in family of youngest son, Luke Bours (1784–1842), who settled in Charleston, SC.

Pairing of female portrait by Blackburn & male companion by Copley is found in other New Eng families of day. For instance, Blackburn’s 3/4-length Mrs Epes Sargent (Catharine Winthrop) (c1755) preceded Copley’s Epes Sargent (1760, Natl Gallery of Art, Washington, DC) in same format; & pair of 1/2-lengths was painted by Blackburn, Catherine Saltsonstall Richards (1762) & Copley, John Richards (1770–71) (both at Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc, NY, as of 1983). Blackburn’s Mrs Thomas Flucker (Hannah Waldo) (1755) predates Copley’s Thomas Flucker (1770–72) (both Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME), but 2 are different formats. It is tempting to see Blackburn’s rococo style as feminine counterpart to Copley’s more masculine realism. But commissions may also reflect shift in taste, ascendance of Copley as more esteemed painter, or simply Blackburn’s absence when 2nd portraits were desired.

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Hannah Bours's Timeline

1742
1742
Rhode Island, USA
1762
July 17, 1762
Age 20
1763
April 26, 1763
Age 21
1764
May 19, 1764
Age 22
1766
October 5, 1766
Age 24
1768
October 1768
Age 26
1773
March 27, 1773
Age 31
1775
1775
Age 33
1777
1777
Age 35
1782
May 5, 1782
Age 40