Captain John Robinson (maybe of Newburyport) – a Mystery

 

Captain John Robinson of Newburyport, MA, , Courtesy of The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD
Captain John Robinson of Newburyport, MA, Courtesy of The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD

Captain John Robinson of Newburyport, MA, Courtesy of The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD

In my search for Newburyport stories I came across this portrait of Captain John Robinson. It is a gorgeous miniature, now in The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

It is a watercolor on ivory, painted by an unknown, but immensely talented artist of the “American School” sometime around 1800-1825. And it says “Captain John Robinson of Newburyport, Massachusetts.” How excited was I when I found it? Very excited. A portrait of an obviously very wealthy, really good looking, downright handsome captain with a clipper ship in the background. I thought to myself, there has got to be a great story here, right? There probably is an amazing story about this good-looking gentleman, but none that I could find anywhere, and I’ve looked and looked and looked.

Usually our Newburyport historians that I’ve discovered doing this “Newburyport Stories” thing love to brag about wealthy, famous people who have lived in our city. Frankly, our historians are reasonably shameless when it comes to the bragging part, so I figured, no problem, Captain Robinson is going to appear all over the place – but nada, zilch, zero.

I finally came to the conclusion that Captain Robinson probably might not have even lived in Newburyport. The description on the museum’s website says that Newburyport was the “Place of Origin” for the beautiful oval painting.

1937 catalogue which includes the sale of the miniature of Captain John Robinson
1937 catalogue which includes the sale of the miniature of Captain John Robinson

1937 catalogue which includes the sale of the miniature of Captain John Robinson

I was able to trace to origins of a sale back of this object to 1937. I found it in a catalogue of the American Art Association, Anderson Gallery Inc, a public sale of lots of things including rare historical miniatures. The collector was a man by the name of Herbert Lawton, a wealthy woolens merchant from Boston, born in 1868, who collected a ton of very valuable stuff. Almost no information to be found about Mr. Lawton either.  I did find a copy of the catalogue online. 1937 was in the middle of the depression, so the sale of this wonderful miniature may have possibly been part of a liquidation process.  I included a copy of the catalogue because I thought it was so interesting. There is Captain John Robinson, of Newburyport, Mass along with an oval of George Washington.

Who is this mysterious person, if anyone has any clues, please let me know.