Back to Salem and the material world. August is the traditional Americana month in the world of Antiques auctions and shows, and one particular lot from this weekend’s upcoming Skinner Americana auction has me transfixed: Ammi Phillips’ Portrait of a Ginger-haired Young Man, which has an estimate of $15,000-$25,000. What a portrait! Riveting blue eyes, patrician profile, the 19th century hand-in-waistcoat pose, and very notable ginger hair.
Ginger is the preferred term for red hair in the nineteenth century, and before. The relative rarity of this hair color created a folkloric characterization (shiftless, hot-tempered) that endured for centuries. The weakness of William the Conqueror’s heir, William Rufus, was attributed to his hair color, as was the voracious personality of Henry VIII. Much later, the prejudices subsided, but the titles of nineteenth-century portraits of redheaded men, women and children always reference hair color, still the conspicuous characteristic of the sitter.
The assassination of William Rufus, British Library MS Royal 20 A II; the ginger-haired Henry VIII, anonymous artist after Hans Holbein, c. 1600, New College, Oxford University; Portrait miniature of an unknown ginger-haired man (previously thought to be Sr. Francis Drake), bu Isaac Oliver, c. 1590, Victoria & Albert Museum; Two nineteenth-century miniature portraits of ginger-haird men, Skinner Auction Archives; Irish Author J.P. Donleavy’s 1955 picaresque novel The Ginger Man, which (apparently) JOHNNY DEPP is considering bringing to the screen.