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17 Mar 2020

From the Collection: Ammi Phillips

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: 


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