Wilmot, Alta Eliza - portrait of Mark Twain

The signature on this miniature portrait is indistinct, as the miniature has suffered a little rubbing, including on the end of the nose of the sitter.

The signature appears to be A E Wilmot, for Alta Eliza Wilmot (1852-1930) who also painted the adjacent miniature, see Wilmot, Alta Eliza - portrait of a lady

Much about Alta Wilmot who became deaf and never married is covered under that adjacent miniature. As indicated there, Alta Wilmot worked with Aime Dupont who was a noted photographer in New York in the late 19C and early 20C and who was the first official photographer for the Metropolitan Opera.

As a photographer of the rich and famous, Dupont is thought to have photographed Mark Twain, the pen name of the famous American author, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910).

From a comparison of this miniature with the several portraits of Mark Twain shown here dating to 1892 and during the period of 1900 to 1907, especially the miniature by Ugo Catani, it is believed the miniature by Alta Wilmot is of Mark Twain, probably painted around 1895 to 1900 and based upon an as yet unlocated photograph by Aime Dupont.

This is supported by the frame chosen, which is particularly ornate. This is usually a sign of an important miniature.

In the miniature the sitter is wearing a black university gown over his suit. This is a sign the portrait relates to one of a series of successful lecture tours made by Twain in the mid 1890's, which included visits to Canada, Australia, India, and South Africa. Always an engaging speaker, Twain would regale and cajole audiences with tall tales, amusing anecdotes, and barbed comments.

It could also be an occasion when he was awarded an honorary degree. This happened on a number of occasions, including; Honorary M.A., 1888, Litt.D., 1901, both Yale University; LL.D., University of Missouri, 1902; named to American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1904; D.Litt., Oxford University, 1907. The photograph shows him at Missouri, see Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) (1835 - 1910) - Famous ...

It is most likely copied from a photograph, although a similar pose has not yet been found. It seems doubtful it was painted from life.

The first one is a photograph of Mark Twain said to be taken in Berlin in 1892 when he was 56 years old. However, in many instances dates for historic photographs are only estimates.

The other images include a full face miniature signed "U Catani", for Ugo Catani of Florence (active 1881-1895), who worked in London and Melbourne, Australia. The miniature is said to be c1900, but it looks as if it was painted several years before that, probably during his lecture touring overseas, see

This portrait appears to be the most similar and it would be helpful to determine when it was taken. In the Wilmot miniature his moustache is very similar, but he looks marginally younger than in the Catani portrait. Thus the Wilmot portrait may even date to the awarding of his MA from Yale in 1888.

Academia wear seems to have appealed to Twain, as here is also a photograph of him wearing an academic gown, said to be taken in 1907, which may imply he is wearing the gown for D. Litt. from Oxford in the photograph.

Also a very small image from 1907, see

And a further two both holding a cigar c1905, one seated by A M Bradley see Mark Twain and the other by Alvin Langdon Coburn, see

Miniature portraits featured in Twain's life on a couple of occasions. Once on an expedition to Jerusalem, Mark Twain made the acquaintance of Charles J. Langdon, a young New Yorker and a great admirer of Twain's writing. When, following an animated conversation, Langdon showed the author a miniature portrait of his sister Olivia, Twain - captivated by her celestial beauty - resolved to meet her. Manoeuvring an invitation to visit the Langdon home for a week, he spent countless hours - and fell thoroughly in love - with the object of his desire.

"Charley, my week is up," Twain said at the end of his visit, "and I must go." "We'll have to stand it, I guess," Langdon replied graciously, "but you mustn't leave before tonight." "I ought to go by the first train," Clemens countered. "I am in love." "In what?" "In love - with your sister, and I ought to get away from here."

Langdon was genuinely alarmed:- no one was good enough for his sister, the family's darling. "Look here, Clemens," he said, "there's a train in half an hour. I'll help you catch it. Don't wait 'til tonight. Go now." And so they did.

On their way to the station, the seat of their wagon, improperly secured, ejected them into the street. Although neither was seriously injured, Clemens was brought back to the Langdon home, where - taking care to recover at a leisurely pace - he remained for another two weeks. Livy, as the family called her, soon became his wife.

In 1908 Eulabee Dix painted this miniature portrait of Mark Twain, where he is also wearing an academic gown, on this occasion his D.Litt (Oxon) robes. It is now said to be in the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute. (However, apologies to NPG that I have not been able to find an Internet link to the miniature.) In the book "Looking for Eulabee Dix" by Jo Ann Ridley, Twain is quoted as saying he had only previously sat for one miniature portrait (although he sat for many large portraits) which was in Italy, many years earlier. It is probably the one above by Ugo Catani. That comment implies the miniature by Alta Wilmot is more likely painted from a photograph.

Unless, of course Twain was flirting with the young and attractive, Eulabee Dix by making her feel especially important, and inferring she was the only woman to paint his portrait. Even if Alta Wilmot had painted him previously.

Alta being deaf, and unless she could lip read, would not have been able to participate in a conversation during a sitting, particularly in the sort of repartee for which Mark Twain was famous. Whereas from the account of Eulabee painting her portrait of Twain, she could and did engage in such repartee. Thus one might accept he may not have wished to allude to what would have been a socially more difficult sitting with Alta Wilmot, had one taken place.

As a result of these investigations and the similarities above, I believe the miniature is most likely a previously unknown and contemporary miniature portrait of Mark Twain, painted by Alta Eliza Wilmot. Probably based on a photograph, with such a photograph possibly taken by Aime Dupont or Etta Greer Dupont.

I have no doubt that there will be some scepticism that the miniature portrait is of Mark Twain. Thus, I would welcome expert opinion on the matter. Further photographic images of Mark Twain taken between 1890 and 1900 would be especially welcome.1082

Since writing the above this miniature portrait of Mark Twain has been sold at auction by Rago Auctions for a price including buyer's commission of $3430.

It was described as; "G.C. RICHTER PORTRAIT MINIATURE OF MARK TWAIN After 1904 portrait by Edoardo Gelli, with 14k pendant frame, indistinctly marked, probably Carter & Gough, 2 3/4" x 2 3/8" below bail. (Note: This pendant was probably by descent through the Clemens family. "I have had many portraits painted, though each one I vowed would be the last; and as I don't believe any one's word should be broken in at least 10 years, I guess you really will be the last on to do it." Mark Twain to portrait painter James Carroll Beckwith c. 1890 at the age of 60. In 1904, at the age of 74, Twain sat for his final portrait with notable Italian pinter Edoardo Gelli. That painting was exhibited at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and currently is in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum. It is most likely that this miniature was commissioned for a member of the Clemens family before the 1st World War.)"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if there is any other information known on G.C. Richter. Possibly other works