This miniature portrait is signed "A E Wilmot", for Alta Eliza Wilmot (22 Sep 1852-1930), the daughter of Charles Tracy Wilmot (13 Jun 1816-Jul 1883) and Catherine North who were married on 10 Sep 1850 at Washtenaw, Michigan. Alta's parents were farmers and she had a younger sister Carrie and a brother Charles. A kind visitor to the website who is related to Alta Wilmot has contacted me with some information about her.
She was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She died in 1930 and was buried in Chicago. She attended Musical College in Boston and studied art in Paris, but she went deaf. Blattel refers to her as having painted miniatures in Paris and so that is perhaps where she met Aime Dupont.
The census records have various spellings of the family name. In 1870 it was Willmot. Her parents were wealthy and in the 1870 census disclosed assets of $100,000. At the 1880 census (where the family name is recorded as Wilmet), she gave her occupation as "music teacher", so it possible she went deaf after this and re-trained as a miniature painter. So far, she has not been located in subsequent census records.
It is believed that her going deaf, had something to do with her not getting married and as a consequence her studies became more important to her than the traditional path of marriage.
Family records show that Alta worked for a Madame Dupont in the Van Dyke Studio Building at 939 8th Ave, NYC, which was near Prospect Park. In trying to date the building a reference was found in the New York Times archives mentioning that the building had a fire in 1894 and that it was erected only 5 years prior to the fire. The NYT mentions artists on the top floors, but neither Alta nor Madame Dupont are referred to in the article.
Family history was that Madame Dupont photographed opera stars and the New York elite, with Alta doing miniature paintings when required. She would do more than one and then let the client choose the one they liked. Even the rejected portraits are beautiful. It is not know whether there were more artists or if Alta was the only one working for Madame Dupont.
The Dupont reference has been clarified by determining that Aime Dupont, a Belgian sculptor turned photographer and his wife, photographer Etta Greer had both moved to New York, after having established a reputation as a portraitist of opera singers in Paris. His images were a sensation and Dupont quickly became the favorite of artists associated with the Metropolitan Opera Company. In 1903 Aime Dupont died and his wife, Etta, took over the portrait business. The Metropolitan Opera Company did not long retain the contractual relationship with the Aime Dupont studio after she assumed control, nor did it hire their son Albert.
A rare photo is shown here of child prodigy opera star Marion Talley. Born in Kansas Marion appeared at the Metropolitan Opera House. This hand painted miniature photograph is on milk glass and signed by artist Aime Dupont at the lower right. It measures 4 3/8" x 3 3/8" and is similar to a miniature painting on ivory, but on glass and with a photographic base. Marion's music from the 1930s as an adult is currently available on CD. It seems that even though the portrait is signed Aime Dupont, it was probably Alta Wilmot who hand colored several portraits at a time, for the customer to then select their preferred portrait.
The reference is thus to the photographic studio of Aime Dupont (1842-1903) (sometimes Aimee Dupont) who was the first official photographer of the Metropolitan Opera. He was born in Belgium and worked as a photographer in Paris in the 1870s, see Picture History : F. A. Bridgman, before moving to New York and establishing a studio there sometime before 1894.
The studio must have continued for some time, as a 1938 advertisement for it is shown here. Photographs cost $12.50 and miniatures on ivory cost $125.
This is interesting, as it shows how expensive miniatures were at the time. Inflation from 1938 to 2007 is about 1300%, thus $125 in 1938 is roughly equal to $1600 today, which is probably in line with how much a recognised miniature painter would charge today.
Some photographs by Aime Dupont in the NY Public Library can be seen at Dupont, Aimé see others at Historic Opera - Early Opera Images - Aime Dupont
The son of Madame Aime Dupont, Albert Dupont, featured in the news as a Round-the-world stowaway in 1911, together with Harry Brown, Cecil Meltzer, and Sidney Francis, the latter the son of the Governor of Missouri and see PLAY HOBOES ROUND WORLD; Three New York Youths Reach Los Angeles ...
Given the association of Aime Dupont with opera stars and other notables, it seems highly likely that the adjacent miniature also by Alta Wilmot which looks like Mark Twain, is actually of him. The pose adopted by the sitter looks not unlike a formal pose a noted photographer like Aime Dupont might choose, when compared to a pose an amateur photographer might elect.
It would be logical for Alta to use such a photograph as a basis for a miniature portrait, although it is possible it is painted from life. For the miniature and comparative images of Mark Twain, see Wilmot, Alta Eliza - portrait of Mark Twain
Alta's nephew Arthur Hall, married Edith, “E Hall”, who also became an artist. Her art can be found at auction on the web. Edith Hall was very prolific and did hundreds of works even though she started in her 40’s. Edith’s husband, Arthur, made her frames…which are beautiful in their own right.
The sitter in this miniature is not known, but there is a handwritten tag attached which reads " 'A lady' by Alta E Wilmot - contemporary - Loaned by Miss Grace McKinstry June 20/32". As the tag reference is to Miss Grace McKinstry, it is possible she is the Miss Grace McKinstry then aged 42, who in the 1930 census was living with her parents in Bay City, MI. 900