Back in October of 2020, the museum launched an #AdoptAnObject campaign for conservation of a portrait of Tillie McClung, by Knoxville artist Lloyd Branson.
As the post outlined, the painting was unstable with areas of craquelure and lifting paint, which posed a threat for losses in the image. Surface grime and significant losses in the ornate frame was also noted in the conditions prior to conservation. Thanks to the generosity of several #AdoptAnObject donors and a successful VOLStarter campaign, a painting conservator was able to schedule treatment.
That treatment is now complete, and he provided some excellent photos of his extensive work.
In the intervening months, I was also able to learn more about Tillie McClung’s death, which had been a mystery. Matilda Mills McClung (1859–1873), known as Tillie, was born to Franklin Henry McClung, Sr., and Eliza Ann McClung. Tragically, we now know that she died at the young age of 13 from Typhoid fever, as I was able to discover from the obituary here.
Typhoid fever is a life-threatening bacterial illness causing high fever and belly pain and spread through contaminated food and water or close contact. Like in many cities in the late 1800s and turn of the century, Typhoid fever was common in Knoxville, and was typically linked to contaminated water sources and milk.
As with many of Branson’s portraits, Tillie’s likeness was based off a now-faded c. 1873 cabinet photograph of Tillie (at right), also in our collection. However, unlike many of Branson’s photo-based portraits, which can look flat and stiff, this painting of Tillie McClung is particularly sensitive, with its soft brushwork and the sitter’s knowing and melancholy expression.
We look forward to putting this newly restored painting on view in our Decorative Arts gallery in the upcoming months. Thank you so much for the generosity of those involved in this #AdoptAnObject campaign, which helps us conserve and display some of our most important works at McClung Museum.