Gerardus Duyckinck I (attributed), Six portraits of the Levy-Franks family, c. 1735

Gerardus Duyckinck I (attributed), six portraits of the Levy-Franks family (Franks Children with Bird, Franks Children with Lamb, Jacob Franks, Moses Levy, Mrs. Jacob Franks (Abigaill Levy), and Ricka Franks), c. 1735, oil on canvas (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art) A conversation with Dr. Mindy Besaw, Curator of American Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and Dr. Beth Harris


Additional resources:

The portraits at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Mrs. Jacob Franks (Abigaill Levy)

Moses Levy

Richa Franks

Jacob Franks

Franks Children with Bird

Franks Children with Lamb


Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

[flickr_tags user_id=”82032880@N00″ tags=”Levy-Franks,”]

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[0:00] [music]

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:04] We’re in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, looking at a set of colonial portraits of a Jewish family from New York.

Dr. Mindy Besaw: [0:13] It’s amazing that it has stayed together. There are three different generations depicted. The centerpiece of the family, and of the portraits, is Abigail. We also see her husband, Jacob, and her father, Moses Levy, which was likely painted after his death to join the suite of portraits.

[0:34] Five of their nine children are depicted. One, likely Richa Franks, is by herself, and then two of the other portraits are two children together, usually a boy and a girl, although because the boys wore dresses when they were small, that also could be their son instead of a daughter.

Dr Harris: [0:53] What we have here is a real window onto the very small community of Jewish immigrants in New York City in the early 18th century.

Dr Besaw: [1:03] By 1730, there were only 75 families that identified as Jewish in the very Dutch colony of New York.

Dr Harris: [1:12] In the early 18th century, they would have been in what we consider Lower Manhattan. In fact, we could still visit Moses’ grave in the first Jewish cemetery in New York City.

Dr Besaw: [1:24] They were instrumental in starting, in funding the synagogue. Jacob is likely the president, one of the leaders of that synagogue.

Dr Harris: [1:33] What we’re looking at is a very wealthy merchant family. It’s really only because these portraits stayed within the family that we can connect them, especially Abigail, with letters that she wrote to her son in London and begin to fill out the life experience of this early colonial family.

Dr Besaw: [1:52] She was incredibly well-read. She was teaching her children the good manners, the painting, the music, just simply that life of a wealthy family. She talks about entertaining and doing all of the things that would have been required of that level of society.

Dr Harris: [2:10] At the same time though, when she writes to her son in London, she’s reminding him to maintain a kosher diet, to keep the holidays, to observe the Sabbath.

Dr Besaw: [2:21] The portraits we think are painted by Gerardus Duyckinck I. He was part of a family of what we would call limner portraitists in the colonies. He would advertise and say, “Come get your likeness done.” What he’s looking at for inspiration for the composition, for the clothing, for the background, is English mezzotints.

[2:45] They do resemble British aristocracy. This is not lost on the audiences in colonial America, who are aligning themselves with that upper echelon. The flowers, the little lamb, the props, the birds, all of those just carry directly over from the mezzotints.

[3:07] Moses, and then subsequently Jacob, formed a shipping empire. Jacob was the chief agent to supply the British, especially during the French and Indian War, with materials and supplies.

[3:22] He’s also capitalizing on the trade that’s going down to the Caribbean and for the sugar plantations. We might also guess that enslaved people were also carried on these ships.

Dr Harris: [3:35] It’s not until a hundred years later that Britain will outlaw slavery in its colonies. We can see that her hand gesture brings us in the direction of the neighboring portrait of her husband; we can assume that these were hung next to one another, and Jacob is gesturing toward his wife.

Dr Besaw: [3:53] If you line up Moses, in fact, if you put Moses to Abigail’s right, our left, they would all be directing their attention to Abigail in the middle.

Dr Harris: [4:04] We can imagine these hanging in a semi-public area of the house. That’s important, because these portraits were meant to convey to people who visited their status, their wealth, their lineage.

Dr Besaw: [4:18] And that they can afford to have their portraits done.

[4:21] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. Mindy Besaw, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and Dr. Beth Harris, "Gerardus Duyckinck I (attributed), Six portraits of the Levy-Franks family, c. 1735," in Smarthistory, March 10, 2020, accessed May 18, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/duyckinck-levy-franks-family/.