October 12, 2011

Where Are Bill's Portraits

After Bill Johnston's arrest in November 1838, authorities held him for trial in Auburn, New York. During his brief stay, Randall Palmer (1807-1845), a locally famous artist, offered to paint Bill's portrait. That Palmer usually painted high society figures, must have impressed Johnston. He agreed.

Accounts describe the painting as 40 inches high by 50 inches wide, with small river scenes painted in the margins. The Rochester Democrat's editor reviewed the work in 1839, and wrote:

"… the result is a most striking likeness of the bold buccaneer. He is 'long-favored'—with features spare, yet prominent and bold. There is in his eye a perceptible shrewdness, which makes him a man of quick comprehension—stern and resolute. He holds in his hand a spy glass, and in the perspective is seen a boat propelled by a female intending to represent Miss Johnston… [this picture] will secure to the Commodore a canvass existence long after tyranny shall have been driven from the Canadas… a copy of this portrait is to be sent to Johnston's family."

The two portraits of Bill Johnston are harder to locate than their subject was in the Thousand Islands in the summer of 1838. Both disappeared without a trace. Not even a photo can be found. For decades, one copy hung in the ornate staircase in the Carnegie-era public library building in Syracuse. It disappeared when the library relocated its central collection in 1988.

Where are the portraits now?
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