Who is the Person in the John Brewster, Jr. Painting?

In the November 2003 issue of the newsletter, we took a close look at the painting hanging in the Keeping Room, attributed to John Brewster, Jr., and believed to be of Mary Gray (Mrs. Barnabas Bidwell,) and given to the Museum in 1990 by Mrs. George W. Cochrane. Well, a closer look is in order, thanks to information from Mrs. Marie Leuchs, a direct descendant of Adonijah Bid-well. The Brewster portrait, said to be of Mary Gray, is clearly a woman much older than 44, the age at which Mary Gray Bidwell died. There were three portraits commissioned by Barnabas Bidwell and done by John Brewster, Jr. in the late 18th century.

When viewing the reproductions of these paintings together, it is clear that the Bidwell House portrait is of Sarah Spring Gray, Mary Gray Bidwell’s mother. The portrait of Mary Gray Bidwell is of a much younger woman dressed in an empire style gown and wearing a white plume in her hair. The painting of Barnabas Bidwell is the image of a hand-some and successful young man. The portrait of Barnabas remains in a private collection of a Bidwell descendant living in New Hampshire. The location of the Mary Gray Bidwell portrait is unknown.

Two years after the death of Mary Gray Bidwell, her husband’s life was forever changed. Falsely accused by political opponents of embezzling funds from the Berkshire County Treasury, Barnabas Bidwell fled to Canada to live the remainder of his life. The couple’s son, Marshall Spring Bidwell was a successful attorney in New York City, and their daughter Sarah Gray Bidwell, lived in Stock-bridge until her death in 1864. This summer, guests viewing the Museum’s portrait will hear their stories.

Article first published in the Bidwell House Museum Spring 2004 newsletter (Editor’s note: in December 2013 the Bidwell House Museum was given the portrait of Mary Gray Bidwell. The donors, John and Judy Herdeg of Mendenhall, PA, had studied the portrait and their research indicated that the author of the three Bidwell portraits likely is Joseph Steward, not John Brewster, Jr. )