Historical Society acquires portrait of early summer residents

SOUTHOLD HISTORICAL SOCIETY COURTESY PHOTO | Society Office Manager Deanna Witte-Walker and Society volunteer Mabel Alexander pose with the Stephenson portrait shortly before it was hung in the Society’s office in Southold.

A giant double portrait of two of the earliest summer residents of Orient is now hanging in the Southold Historical Society office in the historic Prince Building, according to a press release from the society.

The 1841 portrait of William Wilson Stephenson and Marcus Pendleton Stephenson, sons of prominent New York City eye surgeon Mark Stephenson, is one of the largest of its kind.

“The monumental size of the painting — which measures about 4.5 by 5.5 feet — makes it one of the largest children’s portraits related to eastern Long Island ever discovered,” said Geoffrey Fleming, director of the society. “It is a very important work and we are delighted to have received it.”

Society officials say the Stephenson brothers, who lived in Brooklyn, likely lodged at Orient Point Inn, which once sat near what is now the ferry terminal.

In the portrait, Marcus, the younger brother, is seated and holding a hammer used to break open oysters. Society officials say Marcus attended Columbia University and Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pa. and became an eye surgeon. He died on Oct. 28, 1885.

William went to New York University and studied law at Union University. He served in Company F of the 7th Regiment during the Civil War and helped recruit childhood friends who lived in Brooklyn and Orient. He became a New York State assemblyman in the late 1870s and went on to build a large summer house in Orient called “The Cedars,” which still stands today. He died on March 4, 1889.

The Southold Historical Society sent the massive portrait, which it received in poor condition, to painting conservator Jonathan Sherman, who ridded the work of grime and soot and restored its original colors.

Society officials say the portrait was painted by Samuel Lovett Waldo and William Jewett, who were both popular portrait artists in New York City during the 1830s and 1840s.

The portrait is open to the public for viewing.

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