December 19, 2011
Southold Historical Society
P.O. Box 1
Southold, NY 11971
Rare Life Size Double Portrait of Two Boys Acquired by Southold Historical Society
SOUTHOLD, NY. The Southold Historical Society is pleased to announce the acquisition of an immense double portrait depicting two boys, William Wilson Stephenson and his brother Marcus Pendleton Stephenson, who were early summer residents of Orient, NY.
“The monumental size of the painting - which measures over 4.5 by 5.5 feet - makes it one of the largest childrens portraits related to eastern Long Island ever discovered,” noted Society director Geoffrey K. Fleming. “It is a very important work and we are delighted to have received it,” he continued. At one time attributed to the American folk artist Joseph Whiting Stock (1815-1855), it is now believed that the double portrait may have been painted by the noted New York portrait team of Samuel Lovett Waldo (1783–1861) and William Jewett (1792–1874), who were among the most popular portrait artists working in New York City during the 1830s and 1840s.
Born in Brooklyn, Long Island, the Stephenson boys were the sons of Dr. Mark Stephenson (1803-1865), one of Brooklyn’s and New York City’s most prominent eye surgeons and founder of the New York Ophthalmic School and Hospital. This early center for eye care was founded for “the charitable relief of the poor afflicted with diseases of the eye.” It also served as a study and training center for new doctors about to enter the field.
The Stephenson family were among the earliest summer residents who came to Orient from Brooklyn. Originally, they probably stayed at the famous Orient Point Inn, which was once located near the present day ferry terminal. Marcus, who is seated, holds a hammer which he has used for breaking open oysters, another veiled reference to the family’s connection to Orient, which was earlier known as ‘Oysterponds.’ By 1900 the town of Southold was being advertised in Kings County publications as “The Brooklyn Colony,” and many local families who live here today can trace their roots back to Brooklyn.
The two brothers themselves led interesting and varied lives. The younger brother (shown at right), Marcus Pendleton Stephenson, was born on March 25, 1833 and trained as an eye physician, following in the footsteps of his illustrious father. He attended Columbia University for his undergraduate work and Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia for his doctoral work, where he graduated in 1857. He joined the board of his father’s school and hospital in 1858, and became an attending eye surgeon in 1860.
He gave the keynote address in to graduating students of his father’s school in 1863, and taught at there until 1868. He continued to keep his hands in medicine, serving between 1869 and 1870 on the New York State Medical Society’s ‘Committee on Disease’ from New York County. He died suddenly in Amenia, New York on October 28, 1885, his death announcement noted that he was “formerly of New York City.” Marcus Stephenson was buried in the family plot located in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY.
Elder brother (shown standing on the left) William Wilson Stephenson was born November 8, 1831 and graduated from New York University in 1854. He studied law with Brown, Hall & Vanderpool in the city and later graduated from the law department of Union University. During the Civil War he was a private in Company F of the 7th Regiment, and then transferred to the 165th New York State Volunteers ‘Duryee’s Zouaves,’ as a captain of Company C. He helped to recruit for his company by visiting childhood friends who lived both in Brooklyn and in Orient.
At the end of the war he was elevated to rank of brevet Lieutenant Colonel. He served as a representative of the fifth district for the New York State Assembly in 1877 and 1879. After the war he built a large summer house in Orient named ‘The Cedars,’ which still stands on the hill next to the causeway. He eventually retired to live in the house full time and built homes nearby for other members of his family. William Stephenson died on March 4, 1889 after suffering for some time from Bright’s and heart disease. Like his younger brother, he was buried in the family plot located in Greenwood Cemetery.
The portrait of the two Stephenson brothers, which was painted c. 1841, moved around from family home to family home until it was arrived to the home of William’s grandson, who had a home in East Marion, just on the other side of the causeway. It remained there until it was donated to the Society by the estate of life member, Robert W. Gillispie III.
When the portrait arrived at the Society it was extremely dirty and in poor condition. It was sent to the painting conservator Jonathan Sherman for cleaning, repair, and re-lining. The cleaning process removed decades of grime and soot to restore the beautiful colors of the portrait, and helped to reveal a detailed coastal landscape on the right hand side of the painting. When completed, the portrait was moved to the Society’s office in the historic Prince Building, where it is now available for viewing by the public.
For images relating to this release, or further information on the Society, please call (631) 765-5500 or visit us online at: www.southoldhistoricalsociety.org.