Engraving of Marcia Van Ness by T.B. Welch
Marcia Burnes Van Ness (1782-1832) was a prominent philanthropist in Washington, D.C., joining her friend Dolley Madison to establish the Washington City Orphan Asylum. Her grandfather, David Burnes II, owned land that Pierre L'Enfant, who designed the basic plan for the city, wanted to locate the White House and government buildings on. After prolonged bickering, with George Washington among others, Burnes agreed to sell the majority of his 700 acres and became a wealthy man (his fortune was estimated at $44 million in today's dollars).
Marcia Burnes inherited land from her father John in 1799 that became the downtown area of D.C. Marcia was known as "the beautiful heiress of Washington" and was the wealthiest woman in the United States at that time. She married John Peter Van Ness, a congressman from New York and later the mayor of D.C. Marcia died in 1832 and had the first public funeral ever given a woman in Washington.
This antique steel engraving was done by engraver Thomas B. Welch (1814-1874) after a painting by artist Francis Alexander (1800-1880), a famous portrait painter. It pictures a waist-length portrait of Mrs. Van Ness in a frothy bonnet tied under her chin, with matching collar over her black dress. Under the portrait is printed "Engraved by T.B. Welch from a painting by F. Alexander." Beneath that is "MRS. MARCIA VAN NESS." and at the bottom, a facsimile of her signature. T.B. Welch was a prominent burin engraver and painter, primarily of portraits, listed in Benezit Dictionary of Artists, as is Francis Alexander.
The image and printing are outlined in black; the white mat is cut to frame that line, creating a sight size 4 inches by 6 inches. Framed in a simple black wood molding, the overall size is 8 inches by 9 1/2 inches and it weighs about 13 ounces. On the back, the dust paper is intact, with two rubber bumpers at the bottom and a sawtooth hanger at the top. There is a handwritten inscription, partially legible, that states this was a "Christmas gift.... in 1991, found in an antiques shop and no relation...as far as we know."
This original engraving is not a reprint or copy. It was published in The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, Volume 2 (1835) and also in The illustrated American Biography by Abner Dumont Jones, Volume 1 (1853) and---also by Jones---The American Portrait Gallery (1855). Taken from one of these volumes, it is in excellent condition, with no foxing, tears or stains. The frame and glass are in excellent condition, also. The history of this engraving is fascinating and it displays beautifully alone or in a grouping.