Portrait of Eleanora C. Kirkman (1811-1844)

Oil on canvas 14 1/2” x 12 1/2”.

Artist: Attributed to William or Washington Cooper.

Eleanora C. Kirkman was the wife of Hugh Kirkman, he was  one of the sons of Thomas Kirkman and Ellen Jackson Kirkman. (Ellen Jackson was a sister of James Jackson of “Forks of Cypress” near Florence Alabama.

Hugh Kirkman was born in 1804, at age 35 he married Eleanora Van Leer, the 17 year old daughter of Anthony Wayne Van Leer and Rebecca Brandy Van Leer. Anthony Van Leer owned the Cumberland Iron Works, thousands of acres of farm land and a retail iron store in Nashville. One source reports that when Hugh and Eleanora married in Nashville in 1839, “she was undisputedly the city’s most beautiful belle and he was its most eligible bachelor. They were Nashville’s most glamorous family.” By 1849, five children had been born to Eleanora, and she was expecting a sixth. It is thought that Eleanora’s father, Anthony Van Leer,  hired Philadelphia architect William Strickland to construct a new home for Hugh and Eleanora and their growing family. (An old photograph of the house can be found in Architecture in Tennessee 1768-1897, by James Patrick, page 133 figure 149 .” The Hugh Kirkman house, designed by William Strickland and built opposite the cathedral on Summer Street in 1848, belonged to the ring of opulent town houses which encircled the Capitol between 1845-1885”)

The Kirkman residence was a palatial residence on the southwest corner of 5th avenue and Charlotte, across the street from St. Mary’s Church. Shortly after the home was completed and the family had moved in, their sixth child was born and named Van Leer Kirkman. Unfortunately, Eleanora experienced complications in childbirth and died several months later on June 1st, 1849.

Hugh Kirkman managed the Cumberland Iron Works Furnace for his father -in-law and also enjoyed horse racing. Before his marriage to Eleanora Van Leer, Hugh was breeding race horses. In 1832 he bred the horse Wacousta by imported Leviathan, the horse which had been imported form England to Tennessee in 1830 by Hugh’s uncle, James Jackson. From 1837-1839 Hugh Kirkman was secretary of the Nashville Jackson Club.

The Kirkman’s estate was known as Oak Hill, a thoroughbred farm, at the corner of Franklin Road and Tyne Boulevard. It was a portion of the battlefield of Nashville. The First Presbyterian Church occupies the site today. Van Leer Kirkman and both his wives are buried on the lot. He was a director of many of Nashville’s substantial corporations and was President of the Cumberland Park Racing Association and for many years the President of the Hermitage Club.

Provenance: Purchased from a descendant of the Kirkmans in Richmond, Virginia several years ago along with two other portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Kirkman that were sold previously.

Condition: Cleaned and lined, original gilt frame.

Pencil inscription on back of frame reads: “ Eleanora G.________ 1811-1844.”


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