19th Anniversary

2019 Antiques & Fine Art 143 the 1790s in the island’s small but thriving community of free black sailors and tradespeople. Dyer sailed on Nantucket sealing and trading voyages to China, where he had his portrait painted by the Chinese artist Spoilum (Fig. 9). Captain Absalom F. Boston, whose likeness is also preserved in an important painting in the NHA collection (Fig. 10), commanded the island’s first all- black whaling crew when he took the ship Industry out to the Cape Verde Islands in 1822. He was a third-generation islander and engaged in real-estate trading and innkeeping after seafaring. He and his family figured in a number of important milestones of local racial equality. An uncle, Prince Boston, was involved in the 1773 legal case that set in motion the end of slavery on Nantucket. When his daughter, Phebe Ann, was denied admission to Nantucket High School, Boston began litigation that spurred the desegregation of local schools in 1846. When whaling on Nantucket declined in the 1840s and 1850s, islanders left for opportunities elsewhere, and the population plunged from 8,800 in 1850 to 3,200 in 1875. Those who remained returned to fishing, shepherding, and farming, and actively sought to reinvent the island as a resort for summer visitors. As early as the 1840s, islanders opened hotels tailored to tourists. Concerted efforts to advertise the island as a “watering place” in the late 1860s blossomed in a rush of hotel building in the 1870s. More tourist development followed in the 1880s, including a seasonal railroad to carry visitors to outlying beach hotels. The summer colony attracted the painter Eastman Johnson, who became the primary artist of national importance associated with Nantucket in the late nineteenth century. He and his wife began summering on the island in 1870 and returned annually through 1890. He painted numerous important genre scenes on island, and, in the 1880s, created portraits of island civic leaders and retired mariners. Johnson used Captain Charles Myrick (Fig. 11) as the subject of a number of paintings, capturing the spirit of an old captain confined to island retirement. In a particularly poignant study in the NHA collection, Johnson portrays Myrick in reflective decline, holding a Malacca cane with an ivory handle, once a symbol of fashionable elegance but now a sign of decrepitude, and wearing a beaver hat on his drooping head. The island’s faded glory spoke to other artists as well, including Elizabeth Rebecca Coffin, the most important female artist associated with the island (Fig. 12). She was a student of Johan Philip Koelman, William Merritt Chase, and Thomas Eakins, whose realist approach is evident in her surviving works. Many of her works depict Nantucket scenes, often approaching Fig. 9: Spoilum (active ca. 1785–1810), Sampson Dyer , 1802. Oil on canvas; 23 x 18 in. Nantucket Historical Association Collection; Gift of the Friends of the Nantucket Historical Association (2013.2.1). Fig. 10: Prior-Hamblin School, Captain Absalom F. Boston , ca. 1835. Oil on board; 14½ x 10⅝ in. Nantucket Historical Association Collection; Gift of Sampson D. Pompey (1906.56.1).