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Lost and Refound: A Jeff Art History Mystery

(click to enlarge)
Title page of the first history of Jefferson Medical College.

Since the 1824 founding of Jefferson Medical College (now Thomas Jefferson University), there have been four corporate histories published. The earliest was The History of the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia (1858) by James F. Gayley, M.D. In this handsome volume, besides an historical sketch of the college's founding and a list of all graduates for 31 years (2,203), eleven faculty biographies (many accompanied by original portrait engravings) were included.

Three of these portraits were reproduced in the form of fine mezzotint engravings and each was signed on the plate, “Engraved and Printed by J. Sartain.”

Dr. John Colhoun, engraved by John Sartain.

English-born John Sartain (1808-1897) was an important painter himself, but these engravings were done after a set of original paintings by another British artist, Hugh Bridport. The mezzotint (very popular in eighteenth century England) was rarely employed in the United States until John Sartain popularized the technique in Philadelphia.

A box of several framed faculty portraits, which had been cut from the Gayley book (a phenomenon known painfully in the book trade as “tear sheets”) came into the Archives holdings from an administrator's office. Only recently one of the framed images was recognized not as an engraving but as the original painting by Bridport. Bridport’s rendering of Dr. Samuel Colhoun is signed, “H. Bridport Pin.x.t.” and probably dates prior to the 1858 publication, since Colhoun died in 1841 and it may have been painted “from the life.” Like its engraved offspring, the watercolor and gouache original measures about 5x3 inches. It has a sepia cast in brown washes. Sartain changed a few elements from Bridport’s model to create his engraved interpretation; Dr. Colhoun's frock coat is unbuttoned and his right arm is made more anatomically satisfying.

The subject, Dr. Samuel Colhoun (1786?- 1841), was born in Chambersburg, PA, graduated from Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania Medical Department (1808).

Dr. John Colhoun, painted by Hugh Bridport.

He served Jefferson Medical College as Professor of Materia Medica (1831-1839) and Dean (1835-1839). Known as a boring lecturer to students, he was also recognized as one of Philadelphia’s foremost readers of medical literature.

Hugh Bridport (1794-1869) listed himself as an architect in the 1819 Philadelphia city directory, but is primarily remembered as a portrait painter and miniaturist. He trained at the Royal Academy in London and emigrated to Philadelphia at the age of 20 to join his brother, also an artist. Bridport was invited to exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts several times early in his career. He was a founding member of the Franklin Institute (1824) and taught drawing there.

Two more Bridport/Sartain collaborations appear in Gayley’s history:


Dr. John Revere, engraved by John Sartain. Jacob Green, engraved by John Sartain.

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