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G. H. Ballou, Portrait Artist

     Giddings Hyde Ballou, 1820-1886, was an itinerant painter with a difference. In the 1840s and early 1850s he travelled to Cape Cod from his family home in Medford, north of Boston, in search of portrait commissions (and also apparently in search of better health) and like the stereotypical itinerant artist, he may also have been self-trained in his chosen profession. But unlike the stereotype, he was a well- educated man, formally schooled by his father who was a prominent Universalist minister, a member of Harvard's Board of Overseers and, later, the first president of Tufts College. And G.H. Ballou's portraits are recognized as "academic" in style, not "primitive" or the work of a "folk" artist. However, like other travelling artists of the time, he made his living painting portraits--portraits which he never signed--and, also like them, he largely lost that living when photographic portraiture --daguerreotypes--became widely available in New England in the 1850s.

     Born in Stafford, Connecticut, in 1820, Giddings Hyde Balloui was the oldest son of a Universalist clergyman known as Hosea Ballou 2nd, to distinguish him from his even more distinguished uncle of the same name. The family soon moved to Roxbury, Massachusetts, now part of Boston, where in 1826 the Reverend Ballou--eventually the father of seven children--began to supplement his ministerial salary by opening a private school for boys in his home. Son Giddings was apparently home-schooled, as it were, but by an intellectually demanding father who offered his scholars what amounted to a college preparatory education. "Giddings was quick to learn, and fitted for college," his father's biographer later wrote--but apparently, though fitted, he did not attend. Instead, "[w]ith a passion for brush and pallette, he painted industriously,"ii a description which implies that the determined teenager trained himself to paint by painting, undoubtedly both by copying and by working from life. An 1840 likeness of his grandfather entitled "Asahel Ballou in his seventieth year," and known today only from a poor black and white print, would be a late example of his home-study efforts.iii Within the year Giddings Ballou had left home and by 1841 was painting for profit, or at least professionally: on January 14th a young sailor from the town of Truro on Cape Cod paid him ten dollars for painting his portrait.
     Many years later, G. H. Ballou published an article in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in which he wrote: "We well remember how blankly we stared [at the desolate dunes] when, many years ago, on a bitter December morning, after a wave-tossed, sea-sick night, we staggered up the cabin steps of the little packet and fish-dingy Success, on its return trip from Boston to Provincetown. A raw lad, it was our first experience on salt-water. . . ."iv If, as seems likely, the date of this experience was December of 1840, the raw lad, just turned twenty but already quite skilled in his chosen profession, soon had a commission to paint the likeness of one Isaac Small--the earliest Ballou portrait known today.v
     Ballou, in his Harper's article, does not explain why he made this miserable mid-winter voyage to the tip of Cape Cod, but an obituary writer, many years later, asserts that "Mr. Ballou came to the Cape when quite a young man in search of health"vi --and indeed he may have been seeking a somewhat less arduous access to the supposedly curative sea air which had recently induced his near-contemporary, an ailing Harvard student named Richard Henry Dana, to spend two years before the mast.

     There is no evidence of Giddings Ballou's presence on Cape Cod in the years immediately after 1841, nor any known paintings or other clear record of his whereabouts, but he may have been travelling abroad: in 1845 he published a sixteen page essay entitled "Historical Sketch of Painting" in The Universalist Quarterly which includes descriptions and critical opinions of European art works some of which sound like those of a first-hand observer.vii
     The author of the "Historical Sketch," which is signed only with the initials G.H.B., does not explicitly offer any first-person information--not even the fact that he is himself a painter--but in a lengthy introduction he offers what an only be construed as a personal credo, presented as a kind of lecture-sermon--sometimes pedantic, sometimes quite impassioned--in which he declares that "Painting is not merely an imitative art. . . . To the true artist, the forms of being, animate and inanimate, are but the medium through which he searches to reach the inner spirit which pervades all things around, above, and below. . . ." In the final sentence of his essay, following a long discussion of painters and their works from ancient Egyptian to contemporary American, Ballou issues a similarly hortatory appeal to his compatriots: "Let the American artist study nature and its works . . . while he waits upon art and its ideal; let him think, too, for himself, while he listens to the dictates of the masters who have gone before; then indeed shall his course be onward, and his fame shall follow close upon his desert"--ironically prescient words from a young painter who would himself be all but forgotten a hundred years after his death.
     Although G. H. Ballou pronounced a number of value judgements on other painters in his "Historical Sketch," they do not reveal much about his own role models or mentors. After placing Gilbert Stuart, who had died in 1828, "at the head of American portraiture," he concludes his chronological listing with the statement that "in the [1843] death of Washington Allston, we have sustained an irreparable loss"--apparent testimony to a direct influence of Allston on his own work. There is, however, no evidence that Ballou ever worked in the studio of this older Boston painter or otherwise came under his tutelage, and in fact the lack of such evidence, or any other indicating that Ballou ever received any significant formal instruction in painting or portraiture, suggests that Ballou continued to improve his skills by reading, observing and copying the works of others.viii He clearly culled much of the material in his 1845 "Sketch" from his readings in art history and if indeed he had also recently travelled in Europe, he would have spent his time there--like many other aspiring young artists--observing and copying many of the publicly displayed art works about which he later wrote.

     In any case, by 1847 Giddings Ballou was again on Cape Cod, and clearly a somewhat more mature portraitist than he had been in 1841. He appeared this time in the town of Brewster where he would settle, after a fashion, for the next six years--but S. Augusta Mayo (1830-1886), a shipmaster's daughter who in middle age wrote a detailed memoir of her girlhood in Brewster, is virtually the only remaining witness to the painter's years in that town. In 1847, she tells us, he and a young minister were fellow boarders in the home of George Copeland, the local lawyer. The minister soon married a local girl and moved in with his new in-laws, but in 1849 a teacher named Dugan arrived "to take charge of the Academy [and] he and Mr. Ballou had a parlor and a bedroom [at the Copelands] which they occupied together."ix
     The first portraits Giddings Ballou painted after his arrival in Brewster were very likely those of the Copeland family and were probably not conventional commissions but a form of barter: they would have covered several months of his room-and-board bills in their home--a common practice with itinerant painters.x They also served to advertise his skills to the Copelands' neighbors, mostly sea captains whose salaries and investments in saltworks and ships' shares made Brewster Village a prosperous enclave on Cape Cod's north shore with promising prospects for a visiting portrait artist. What Ballou charged for his work at this time is not known, but he very likely increased the $10 fee he had received for the 1841 portrait in Truro to something like $15 or even $20 for the shipmasters of Brewster and their families.

     In his first few years back on the Cape, Mr. Ballou, as he was generally known, picked up local commissions by word of mouth, primarily in Brewster but sometimes in other nearby towns as well: the painter himself dated one of his Chatham portraits to April of 1849 and indicated that he was in Yarmouth later the same year.xi However, by the Fall of 1850, seriously threatened by the new photography, he was advertising his portrait services for the first time in two Cape Cod weekliesxii --and offering to work from daguerreotypes rather than live sitters. "G.H. Ballou," his ad declared, "Portrait Painter, Brewster, Mass . . . having made recent arrangements for executing Portraits from daguerreotypes, can now readily answer such commands. . . ." What his "recent arrangements" were is hard to imagine, but a family wanting an heirloom likeness of a rarely-home sea captain, or one who had already died in distant seas, might well consider having a tiny metallic likeness transformed by the painterly skills of Mr. Ballou into a near-life-sized gold-framed portrait.xiii

     Exactly what kind of ill health had caused Giddings Ballou to seek salubrious air on Cape Cod both in 1841 and apparently again when he settled for a years-long stay in Brewster in 1847 is never explained, but it is unlikely that he suffered in the 1840s from the tuberculosis that he died of some forty years later. In any case, his invalidism did not keep him from being an amusing contributor to the social life of Brewster's unmarried young women. "In the Lyceum the ladies conducted a paper called 'The Evening Star'," Augusta Mayo writes. "Mr. Ballou had another paper called 'The Gossip' a very sprightly sheet."xiv Both papers were written to be read at Lyceum meetings, rather than printed, and Mr. Ballou was a regular reader at these lecture, discussion and debate sessions. "The gentlemen's paper has been read by Mr. Dugan the last two meetings," Augusta Mayo's mother wrote in a letter dated Feb. 21, 1851, "Mr. Ballou having gone to Chatham"--most likely for a portrait commission or two.xv
     Mr. Ballou was soon back in Brewster, however, adding another male presence to Mr. Dugan's educational evenings with five local young ladies. "This was the winter," Augusta Mayo remembers, "that Mr. Ballou and Mr. Dugan with the Freeman girls, Helen and Mary Cobb and myself, met to read Hume's History of England one evening in a week. . . ." In August of 1852, Mr. Ballou lost his roommate when Mr. Dugan married Helen Cobb, but the painter stayed on in Brewster for at least another year.
     Augusta Mayo last mentions "Mr. Ballou"--she never records his first name--in her October 1853 report of "a dramatic entertainment for the benefit of the Brewster Ladies' Library Association, the first of the kind in aid of the Library" which she and her friends had decided to found, and fund. "We had the farce of Poor Pillicoddy," she writes, "Mr. Ballou [taking the part] of Capt. O'Scuttle."xvi
     G.H. Ballou left Brewster sometime after his Captain O'Scuttle performance in October of 1853, presumably having run out of potential portrait sitters, and again there is a brief gap in his history. In that year his father had been named first president of Tufts College, in Medford, but before taking up his new post a year later, Hosea Ballou 2nd embarked on a grand tour of Europe with a family entourage which may have included his oldest son, Giddings.

     G. H. Ballou reappears briefly on Cape Cod in early 1856 when, on January 31st, he "drew" a small portrait of the baby daughter of a Chatham dentist whose own portrait he had painted in 1849, and he is there again later in the year not as a portrait painter but as a "pedagogue": he had been hired for the three-month winter 1856-57 semester as a school teacher for the town of Chatham at a salary of $35 a month. He reapplied to teach the short term each year through the winter of 1860-61, asking always for the same $35 salary, despite the fact that one Everett Eldridge was being paid $45 a month to teach the same semester in another Chatham school.xvii Surviving records show that most of the students in his ungraded one-room school on a remote coastal sandspit--the sons and daughters of local fishermen--were under-educated boys aged fifteen to twenty, working fishermen themselves who could attend school only for a few weeks in the off-season.
     Although Ballou apparently taught his oversized charges through the 1860-61 semester, winter storms so altered parts of the Chatham shoreline that the school on Monomoy Point, essentially isolated from the mainland, was permanently closed and G.H. Ballou, portrait painter and school teacher again turned to writing.
     In the article, mentioned earlier, which was published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1864, he described his experiences as a teacher at the Monomoy school: "Into this place," he wrote, ". . . came Pedagogus to induct the delights of literature into the minds of the hardy young Monomoians. One would have deemed these sands a mighty uncertain bed wherein to sow the seeds of learning. But Pedagogus thought otherwise. Furthermore, his complexion was sicklied o'er with pallid thought, and he came to the scene as to sand-bath and water-cure combined, well pleased to don patched trowsers, and monkey-jacket." Asked by a local, "But how do you get on with the boys? . . . Rather tough customers they are, eh?" Pedagogus replied: "Not very. . . . None of 'em over six feet, except Big Hugh, and he's tolerable good-natured. Not many of 'em can lick me--perhaps not. . . ."xviii Or perhaps they could and did. A Ballou relative, years later, wrote of Giddings Ballou: "An apt scholar, a lack of ability to govern only prevented his adopting the profession of teaching as his life work."xix

     Ballou's self-mocking description of Pedagogus as "sicklied o'er with pallid thought" and other self-references to his physical appearance suggest that he was still, as Augusta Mayo described him several years earlier, something of an invalid. Ballou also provided illustrations for his Harper's article and they include one of a long-legged, tired-eyed, sparse-haired man with glasses pushed up on his forehead sitting with a group of robust fishermen around a stove. Another sketch shows him walking into driving rain with a text describing his ordeal. "[S]ometimes the tempest would come at inconvenient hours," he wrote, "and when Pedagogus, having waded through ice-cold brine, surmounted the beach-rising on his way to his 'academy,' and leaned over against a storm of ocean sleet driving furious and level
...then Pedagogus was tempted to think that even pure air might be had in excess."xx Whatever his ailment "pure air," however harsh, seems to have been the prescribed treatment.
     The Monomoy school closed forever in early 1861 and if Giddings Ballou then returned home to Medford, he did not stay there long. A month after the Civil War began in April of 1861, Ballou's father died and his painter-pedagogue son--probably not physically fit for fighting--became something of a war correspondent. G.H. Ballou spent most of the war years as "secular" editor of the Gospel Banner, a Universalist weekly published in Augusta, Maine, whose readers, as Universalists, would also have been also Abolishionists. Ballou is listed on its masthead as one of three editors or as a "Regular Contributor" from January of 1863 to August of 1864, during which time his contribution was a column headed "The War," a skillful summary of military news regarded as "eminently truthful and reliable."xxi It is not clear whether Ballou was working from telegrams and clippings sent to the paper's editorial offices in Augusta or was compiling his news from sources closer to the action in Washington D.C. What is clear is that he was living in that city in 1867.

     In 1861 a Captain James S. Taylor, age 45, had died at Chatham and in 1867 Giddings H. Ballou, age 46, who identified himself as a "government clerk" and a resident of Washington D.C.,xxii returned to Chatham to marry Captain Taylor's widow, Azubah Atwood Taylor, 49--an older sister of the dentist whose portrait he had painted in 1849.
     Ballou stayed on in Washington for several years after his marriage, working as a statistical clerk for the Department of Agriculture,xxiii but by the mid-1870s he had returned to Chatham to live in his wife's house, still standing on Cross Street. How he supported himself in his final years is unclear, though he is said to have "engaged mostly in literary pursuits and painting, until failing health compelled him to lay all these aside."xxiv He was still well enough in the summer of 1880 to serve as local "Enumerator" for the town's census, listing himself as a "Portrait Artist" by profession, but noting that he had been unemployed for "2+ months."

     Giddings Hyde Ballou died at Chatham after a "long, lingering and wasting sickness," elsewhere described as "consumption," in June of 1886 at the age of sixty-fivexxv and was buried in an Atwood family plot in the town's Union (Congregational) cemetery. An obituary writer for the Chatham Monitor noted that he "was first known [here] as an artist, in which profession he excelled, especially in the line of portrait painting--as many evidences on the walls of many of the homes on the Cape and elsewhere will testify." However, the wording of this comment also implies that Ballou was not especially known in Chatham as a practising artist in his later years. None of his eulogizers makes clear how he was otherwise employed after his return to Chatham as a married man, though one mentions that he had "retired" in 1883. Their comments do, however, suggest a surprisingly nuanced portrait of the man who had once painted so many portraits of others: the presiding (Universalist) minister at his funeral--who evidently knew Ballou only slightly--is quoted as saying that "not withstanding some peculiarities . . . he had found him to be a man of superior mind and heart." The local obituary writer, who was evidently much better acquainted with his subject, wrote of Ballou that "his modest and retiring disposition kept him from important positions he was well fitted to occupy. The inner man was not easily accessible," he noted, but added that "those who knew him best knew him to be intelligent, well informed, witty, and conscientiously honest in every minute particular."xxvi
     Ballou himself, however, chose to identify himself primarily, even exclusively, as a "Portrait Artist" to the end of his life, and he undoubtedly hoped that his works, and therefore his reputation, would survive him. Ten years after his death his cousin, Hosea Starr Ballou, mentioned in his biography of the painter's father that the son's portraits "are now highly prized,"xxvii but in the century since then--although a number of paintings attributable to him can be found in historical museums or in the homes of the sitters' descendants--the name of the artist, who apparently never signed his work, has been all but forgotten.

An exhibition held in Brewster in 2003, as part of the town's bicentennial celebrations, was the first known public showing of a collection of portraits attributable to Giddings Hyde Ballou, one of the last and least known of New England's itinerant painters.


Note on portrait of Hosea Ballou 2nd:
     In his 1896 biography of Hosea Ballou 2nd, (see references below), his nephew Hosea Starr Ballou included a very poor black and white (photographic?) print of this portrait (opposite page 144), identifying it as "From an Oil Painting by Giddings Hyde Ballou. Owned by Tufts College."
     The frontispiece to this book is a virtually identical image of Hosea Ballou 2nd which the author identifies in his list of illustrations as "Dr. Ballou at 50 (Engraved from an early daguerreotype.)" And opposite p. 180 he offers yet another near-identical image, identifying this one as "From a Crayon Portrait by Giddings Hyde Ballou."
     G. H. Ballou may have painted these portraits, either from life or from a daguerreotype or both, in 1846 when his father was fifty---or from the daguerreotype at some later time.

iNamed after a Mr. Giddings Hyde, one of his father's Stafford parishioners.

ii Hosea Starr Ballou, Hosea Ballou, 2d. D.D., First President of Tufts College: His Origins, Life, and Letters (Boston: E.P. Guild, 1896) p. 99.

iii Hosea Starr Ballou, opposite p. 52. The caption reads: "Asahel Ballou in his seventieth year. [From an Oil Painting by Giddings Hyde Ballou. Owned by Hosea Starr Ballou.]" Asahel Ballou was born on January 18, 1771, so his 70th year would have been 1840. During most of this year G.H. Ballou, born November 10, 1820, was only nineteen years old. See also Family Portraits at the end of this collection of Ballou's Cape Cod portraits.

iv Article entitled "Monomoy": Harper's New Monthly Magazine, XXVIII (1864): pp. 305-11.

v The receipt reads: "N. Truro Jany 14th 1841 Mr Isaac Small to G.H. Ballou Dr [sic] For painting a portrait of himself - $10 Recd Paymt G. H. Ballou."

vi Chatham Monitor, June 15, 1886: p. 2.

vii Universalist Quarterly , Vol. II (Jan. 1845): pp. 23-38.

viii Among Ballou's contemporaries, Chester Harding (1792-1866)--who was both an admirer and a friend of Washington Allston-- "was an untrained itinerant artist who became one of America's most successful portrait painters in the era after Gilbert Stuart. . . . Harding learned his craft largely through mimicry of other artists. He had no formal schooling in art, and never apprenticed or worked directly with another artist, even informally. Instead, he seemed to assimilate the qualities he admired--the styles, mannerisms, and techniques. The works themselves became his mentors." (Leah Lipton, A Truthful Likeness: Chester Harding and His Portraits ( Washington DC: National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian Institution, 1985) pp. 13 & 15).

ix Transcription of memoir by Sarah Augusta Mayo (property of the Brewster Ladies' Library Association) pp. 134-35. An edited version, published by the Brewster Ladies' Library Association in 2003, is entitled Looking Back: The manuscript of Sarah Augusta Mayo on the History of Her Family and Their Life in Brewster, Massachusetts Circa 1830-1870, ed. Janine M. Perry.

x "A recurrent thread in the lives of itinerant painters was their reliance on the craft of painting portraits to pay for room and board at an inn or household": Colleen Cowles Heslip, Between the Rivers: Itinerant Painters from the Connecticut to the Hudson (Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1990) p. 42. Although no records have been found of the prices charged by Mrs. Copeland, one might estimate that it was probably about $10 a month for room, board and laundry. In an 1854 letter, a Brewster woman mentions, with reference to local charges for room and board, that "Augusta [probably Augusta Mayo, the Memoir writer who was then 24] is going to teach in Orleans[,] pays $1. (67cts) pr week and sends her washing out. . . ." ( Desire L. Thacher to her son, Captain Joseph Lincoln, Nov. 15, 1854. Lincoln Collection, Sturgis Library, Barnstable, MA)

xi See information accompanying the portrait of Dr. Joseph Atwood.

xii The Yarmouth Register and The Barnstable Patriot.

xiii One of Ballou's portraits of his father closely resembles a daguerreotype image (see Hosea Starr Ballou, frontispiece and pp. 144 and 180); and a Ballou portrait of Captain Joseph H. Sears of Brewster, included in this collection, may also have been based on an 1850s-era tintype.

xiv In addition to "The Gossip," Ballou was also, during his Brewster years, testing his talent as a professional writer for a wider female market. He published a story entitled "Gaspar Poussin" --long on sentiment but short on sprightliness--in a periodical, The Lily of the Valley for 1851, and other "light fiction" in The Ladies' Repository (Hosea Starr Ballou p. 99).

xv Transcription, p. 135.

xvi Transcription, p. 143. Appropriately, if belatedly, the library Augusta Mayo and her young lady-friends helped to establish-- and to which Mr. Ballou contributed his farcical talents 150 years ago--will be the setting for the first known exhibition of Giddings Ballou's portraits in August of 2003.

xvii "Estimate Wages to be paid for Winter term 1858-9." Paper in files of the Chatham Historical Society.

xviii Harper's, p. 308.

xix Hosea Starr Ballou, p.99.

xx Harper's, pp. 309 and 310. A Ballou obituary (Chatham Monitor, June 15, 1886: p. 2) , evidently written by someone who knew Ballou, mentioned his magazine articles "illustrated by the different scenes of Monomoy. . . ." A Yarmouth Register obituary also refers to the Harper's llustrations as Ballou's work.

xxi Chatham Monitor obituary. The author of an obituary in the Boston Evening Transcript (June 14, 1886: p. 8), referring to Ballou's "War" column, writes that he "made that journal [Gospel Banner] noted for its carefully prepared weekly summary of the momentous events of the time. . . ."

xxii Marriage record, Chatham Town Hall.

xxiii Ballou may also have done free-lance work as an illustrator during his Washington years. An 1872 publication includes a drawing of two treadle sewing machines, credited to "BALLOU," --Horace Greely et al The Great Industries of the United States . . . (Hartford, Chicago and Cincinnati: J.B. Burr, Hyde & Co) p. 929--and an 1875 book has as its frontispiece an anatomical drawing of a horse with the words "BALLOU.CLEVE[land]." at bottom right--George O. Harlan Illustrated House Owner's Guide . . .(Fremont [Ohio]: Messenger Steam Printing House).

xxiv Chatham Monitor obituary.

xxv Chatham Monitor obituary and Death record, Chatham Town Hall. G.H. Ballou was the last survivor of the immediate family of Hosea Ballou 2nd, his parents as well as his brothers and sisters--all of them childless--having predeceased him. In his will, dated two months before his death, his only specific bequest was a "gold watch formerly belonging to my father with the gold chain &c thereto appertaining to Russell A. Ballou [a third cousin]," the rest of his belongings "whatsoever" going to his wife, Azubah Atwood (Taylor) Ballou, who survived him by twenty-six years, dying indigent in 1912 at the age of ninety-five. Among the Ballou works now owned by the Chatham Historical Society are portraits of Azubah's brother, two of her sisters, her sister-in-law and a niece. If Ballou also painted a portrait of his wife, it is now lost. A photograph of her, probably in her early fifties, has been found in an album which belonged to her sister-in-law.

xxvi Chatham Monitor.

xxvii Hosea Starr Ballou, p. 99.

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