An over-zealous Boston art dealer in the early years of the 20th century made knowingly false attributions of 18th-century portraits from the Salem-Boston area. The attributions were promulgated by colleagues and later by art scholars until disproved by two other historians. The saga is a sub-chapter in Norton’s upcoming book on the Salem 18th-century portrait artist, Benjamin Blyth. Sometimes mistaken for Copleys, Blyth’s portraits include the Massachusetts Historical Society’s iconic images of the newly married John and Abigail Adams, the Providence man who started the US postal system, the clergyman who promoted settlement of the Northwest Territory, and numerous figures of the American Revolution and their families. The upcoming book by Norton doubles the attributions for pastels and oils and, for the first time, lists miniatures.
Following the lecture, Athenæum documents that helped fill out the story will be shown upstairs in the Vershbow Room.
Bettina A. Norton’s specialty is American graphic arts and architecture, for which she has published extensively. She has just finished work on a book tentatively titled Benjamin Blyth: Salem’s 18th-Century Limner. Her previous publications include Edwin Whitfield: North American Scenery; Trinity Church: The Story of an Episcopal Parish in the City of Boston; The Boston Naval Shipyard, 1800-1974; ‘To Create and Foster Architecture’: The Contributions of the Boston Architectural Center; and over 60 articles. She was editor and publisher of The Beacon Hill Paper, renamed The Beacon Hill Chronicle, from 1995—2001, and has given courses at the Beacon Hill Seminars, most popular of which was “So You Think You Know Your City?,” repeated four times. She and her family live in the house on Beacon Hill in which she grew up.
Certain books were “banned in Boston” at least as far back as 1651, when one William Pynchon wrote a book criticizing Puritanism.