Art & Artifacts

Discover the Library Company’s Art and Artifact Collection

Distinguished Painters

 

James Reid Lambdin


Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889) gained renown as a portrait painter, professor, and leader in the arts community. At a young age he discovered what was to be his life-long calling when he saw a copy of a Gilbert Stuart painting on a sign outside his childhood home. He moved to Philadelphia in 1823 to begin his artistic career and quickly came under the tutelage of Thomas Sully. By 1826, Lambdin had returned to Pittsburgh, and in 1828, he opened the Pittsburgh Museum of Natural History and Gallery of Fine Art, modeled after Charles Willson Peale’s museum in Philadelphia. His collection, which included over fifty paintings and 400 fossils, was welcomed as one of the first public exhibits of art in the West. In 1832, he moved his museum to Louisville, Kentucky but eventually settled in Philadelphia in 1837 with his wife, Mary Cochran, and their six children. Once in Philadelphia, he joined the Artists’ Society Fund and went on to become president from 1845-1867; he also served as director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1845-1864 and taught fine arts at the University of Pennsylvania from 1861-1866. During his time in Philadelphia, he was appointed by President Buchanan as one of the United States art commissioners and painted portraits of fifteen U.S. Presidents. At the time of his death in 1889, Lambdin had become of the most esteemed and prolific portraitists in the nation. We are privileged to have five of his portraits in our collection.


James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889).

 

James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889).
John Jay Smith.
Oil on canvas.
Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of Lloyd Pearsall Smith, Robert P. Smith, and Horace J. Smith, 1883.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Reid Lambdin, Portrait of John Jay Smith

Born in Burlington County, New Jersey, John Jay Smith (1798-1881) was a prominent Philadelphia editor and librarian of the Library Company. Though he began his career in the drug business, he always felt a penchant for literature, and in 1827 began by publishing a newspaper called the Pennsylvania Gazette. In 1829, he left the Gazette to join the Library Company as librarian and trustee of the Loganian Library. By the 1830s, Smith began publishing again, this time in the form of Waldie’s Select Circulating Library, a weekly that republished foreign books. He later founded the Girard Life Insurance, Annuity, and Trust Company, as well as Laurel Hill Cemetery. After twenty-two years with the Library Company, he retired and left the position to his son Lloyd. He continued to write and edit until his death at the age of eighty-three.

 

 

James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889).

 

James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889).
Lloyd Pearsall Smith.
Oil on canvas.
Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of Lloyd M. Smith, 1915.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Reid Lambdin, Portrait of Lloyd Pearsall Smith

Son of Library Company librarian John Jay Smith, Lloyd Pearsall Smith (1822-1886) was born in Philadelphia, where he established himself as a librarian, publisher, and editor. After graduating from Haverford College in 1837, he apprenticed with importers and went on to publish Smith’s Weekly Volume in 1845, a successor to his father’s publication, Waldie’s Select Circulating Library. Upon his father’s retirement, Smith became librarian of the Library Company in 1851. He remained the librarian through the Civil War, as well as during the expansion to the new Juniper and Locust Street Building in 1880. But, perhaps Smith’s most lasting achievements were his organization of the American Library Association and his development of a classification system which, for parts of the collection, is still in use today.


 

James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889).

 

James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889).
Benjamin Franklin, 1880.
Oil on canvas.
Library Company of Philadelphia. Purchased by the Library Company, 1880.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Reid Lambdin, Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

This portrait of Benjamin Franklin is a copy of one painted by David Martin in 1766. Lambdin painted this portrait using Martin’s original when it was on loan from owner Thomas A. Biddle for a Philadelphia exhibit of historic portraits. Benjamin Franklin’s legacy loomed large in 19th-century Philadelphia, as it does today, so it is no accident that Martin’s portrait was often reproduced. In this likeness, Franklin sits, reflective and studious, as the bust of Isaac Newton hovers in the background. So taken with the original, Franklin requested a copy for his family in Philadelphia. Lambdin’s replica, painted over a hundred years later, eventually came to the Library Company in 1880, purchased from the artist himself.

 


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