Skip over navigation

Coddington, William (1680-1755)

Role: Rhode Island Statesman and Grandson of the First Colonial Governor
Portrait Location: John Hay Library 200
Artist: Mathewson, Thomas (1815-1862)
Portrait Date: 1857
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 51 x 42 1/2 in. (129.54 x 107.95 cm.)
Framed Dimensions: 63 1/2 x 53 1/2 in. (161.29 x 135.89 cm.)
Brown Portrait Number: 6
Brown Historical Property Number: 1320

William Coddington III was born in Newport to William Coddington II, colonial governor of Rhode Island from 1683 ? 1685. He was the grandson of William Coddington I, the first governor of Rhode Island and founder of Newport. Coddington the third was a wealthy, influential merchant in Newport, serving as assistant speaker in the House of Deputies and as a justice in the Court of Common Pleas.

This portrait was long thought to be that of William Coddington Sr., and was indeed believed to picture the grandfather when Matthewson was commissioned to copy King's portrait in 1857. In 1913, however, a museum curator named Hamilton Tompkins questioned this assumption. He pointed out several mitigating factors. First, Coddington Sr. died in 1678 and there were no artists in the colonies then capable of producing such a painting. While Coddington had traveled to England in 1651 to obtain the colonial charter for Aquidneck and Conanicut Islands, the subject's ostentatious mode of dress and particularly his wig are completely out of keeping with styles of this early time, especially for a Quaker, the faith professed by Coddington Sr. The same objections can be applied to William Coddington, Jr., who died in 1685. King Charles the 2nd introduced the large "periwig" to the English when he arrived in England in 1660, but the style caught on slowly and would certainly have been shunned by Quakers. Only by 1700 were Rhode Islanders gaining enough wealth and international exposure to dress in such a costume, Tompkins determined. There are several other portraits of important colonial subjects from this later time period that exhibit similar garment and wig styles, such as Peter Faneuil, John Hancock, and John Bannister of Newport.

The artist of the original painting, Nehemiah Partridge (1683 - 1737) was an itinerant portraitist and decorative painter from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He was the son of Mary Brown and Colonel William Partridge, who later became lieutenant governor of New Hampshire. Partridge advertised in both Boston and New York City as a japanner, paint seller, and a owner of "the Italian Matchean, or moving Picture." No portraits survive from these places, but several discoveries have been made in other towns that led to Partridge's identification, including a copy by Charles Bird King (1785 - 1862).

King was born in Newport but began painting in New York at age twenty. He studied for seven years in England under Benjamin West, and settled in Washington on his return, where he became a well-known studio portraitist for many political and social celebrities. He summered in Newport and, during his lifetime, donated hundreds of paintings and several thousand dollars to the Redwood Library, where his Coddington likeness after Partridge now hangs. An identical painting by King was owned by a Coddington descendant in 1976.

Thomas Mathewson was a portrait artist born in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. During his lifetime, he worked principally in Providence and Brooklyn. He painted his copy of Coddington in 1857 on a commission from friends of Brown University, presumably under the misapprehension that he was portraying the man who had secured the royal charter for Rhode Island (Aquidneck Island).