Previously Unknown Portrait by William Matthew Prior Donated to the Museum


Captain Gerald Cummings, retired captain from the Maine Maritime Academy's ship State of Maine with his wife, Linda Caroline Grant, now deceased, has generously donated an oil on canvas portrait of his great, great grandfather, Captain Jeramiah Cushing York [1816-1906] to the Maine State Museum. The portrait has been held in the family since its making in 1853 by artist William Matthew Prior [1806- 1873] of Bath, Maine. The portrait is signed and dated by the artist on the canvas back and remains in the original simple, lemon gilt frame.

Capt. York, a sea captain born on Long Island, Cumberland County became a founding father of the Peoples' United Methodist Church in South Portland. In 1834 he married Sarah Chamberlain Hamblin whose brothers were established folk portrait painters.

Prior depicted Capt. York as a lively young seaman, with blue eyes, trimmed beard and telescopic lens in hand. In the background Prior sketched a two-masted schooner under full sail, a symbol that with the telescope illustrated his sitter's calling.

Jacquelyn Oak, curator of the exhibition William Matthew Prior Revealed at the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, and currently preparing a catalogue raisonne of the artist's documented paintings, explained in a phone conversation that this previously unknown portrait reflects Prior's more formal academic approach to modeling rather than his flat, unshaded likenesses that he accomplished in less than one hour's sitting.

The portrait is now being conserved and we hope to have an early opportunity to display it to the public.