In 1924, a summer fair in Kent, Connecticut sparked the rediscovery of a major American artist when local residents put several nineteenth-century “ancestor portraits” on display. The strikingly similar canvases depicted graceful women with long slender necks leaning slightly forward within gleaming dark backgrounds and firm men in dark suits, often holding newspapers or books in their hands. The artist, who was then unidentified, was given the appellation “Kent Limner.” The word limner comes from the same root as illuminate, and it was once used to refer to medieval manuscript painters. In the 18th century American colonies, it became a term to refer especially to portraitists.
It was not until 1965 that Barbara and Larry Holdridge, with the support of Mary C. Black, convincingly demonstrated that the Kent Limner portraits were linked to several other disparate bodies of work and that all, in fact, were painted by a single artist—Ammi Phillips—at different points in his career.
Interested in learning more about Ammi Phillips? Start here with these resources about the painter:
- Listen to curator Emelie Gevalt talk with National Public Radio’s WSHU about Phillips, limners, and Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog.
- Read about a work of art from a period when Phillips was known as the “Kent Limner.”
- Explore The Seduction of Light: Ammi Phillips | Mark Rothko Compositions in Pink, Green, and Red, an exhibition that explored painterly connections between the two artists.
- See all works by Phillips in the AFAM Collection.
Image credit: Lady in Gold-Colored Dress; Ammi Phillips (1788 – 1865); Probably New York, Connecticut, or Massachusetts, United States; 1835-1840; Oil on canvas; 33 ½ x 28 ¼; Gift of Joan and Victor Johnson; 1991.30.1; Photo Credit: Gavin Ashworth