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A new painting of Juan Seguin?

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Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2011 12:00 am

AUSTIN - The state's foremost forensic artist has said that a painting purchased two years ago in Europe appears to be a portrait of Juan Nepomuceno Seguin, namesake of the city of Seguin.

Lois Gibson, forensic artist for the Houston Police Department and other law enforcement agencies in Harris County, traveled to Austin on Friday to conduct a comparison of the painting with a portrait of Juan Seguin that hangs in the State Capitol.

"I believe this is the same man," Gibson said after examining the two portraits.

She previously had said she was 99 percent certain that both paintings were portraits of Juan Seguin after examining high-resolution photographs of them. To be 100 percent certain of her analysis, she wanted to examine the actual paintings side by side. The comparative evaluation was arranged by Alex McDuffie, an Austin collector and dealer in Texana and early American militaria, who purchased the newly discovered portrait in Copenhagen in 2009.

"I found it at a gallery in Denmark. They had purchased it from a dealer in Mexico," McDuffie said.

He said he initially was interested in the painting because it appeared to show an officer wearing what McDuffie recognized as a Mexican army regulation trooper's uniform of 1839. The gallery's description was brief: "Excellent portrait of young officer, 19th century oil."

While searching through images of uniforms of the 1830s and 1840s, he saw the State Capitol's portrait of Juan Seguin done in 1838 by Thomas Jefferson Wright, and he noticed the striking similarities of the officers in the two paintings.

"When I set out to authenticate a piece, there's always resistance," McDuffie said. "Even if you have a piece that's authentic, there are always skeptics."

Resistance hasn't been a problem in his efforts to identify the subject of the portrait. "I am amazed that every door has been wide open to me with this authentication process," McDuffie said. "I really cannot express just how unusual it is to meet with zero resistance in the process."

Although the new painting is not signed, McDuffie believes it to be the work of Juan Nepomuceno Herrera, a painter who was active in Mexico in the 1840s. He said his "tentative attribution" of the painting to Herrera is based on comparing the styles of known works by Herrera with the new portrait of Seguin.

Furthermore, McDuffie suspects that Herrera might have been a relative of Seguin. He pointed out that two members of Seguin's company of Tejanos who fought at San Jacinto were named Herrera and were said to be cousins of Juan Seguin.

Gibson said the newer painting was done by the better of the two artists, indicating that she would regard Herrera, if indeed he painted the Seguin portrait, as a better artist than Wright who painted the Capitol's portrait.

Gibson also said the subject of the new painting appears to be unhappy. "I've never seen a formal portrait where someone has his arms crossed," she said. "He didn't even button his jacket. He just threw it on."

Viewing Seguin as unhappy in the newly discovered portrait would seem to support contentions that he was forced to serve in the Mexican army between 1842 and 1848. Seguin took his family to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, in 1842 during a period of turmoil in San Antonio, and he claimed to have been ordered to serve in the military.

"He realized that he needed to get his family out of San Antonio," McDuffie said. "It's a story that I want to have told."

When she examined high-resolution photos of the two paintings, Gibson noticed only one significant difference. Both portraits show the subject's left ear, and the earlobe is considerably larger in the painting hanging in the Capitol.

She noted that the tips of earlobes invariably line up with the tip of the subject's nose, and the Capitol's portrait shows the earlobe extending too far down below the tip of the nose. In the newer painting, the earlobe's size appears to have been reduced by painting over a larger earlobe.

During her examination in the Legislative Reference Library of the Capitol, where the Seguin portrait hangs, another difference was discovered. Seguin's eyes are brown in the portrait by Wright, and they are blue-green in the other portrait.

Gibson said the eyes appeared to be the same color in the photos she examined. After further examination of the Capitol portrait, she said the eyes had been touched up to be brown. She pointed out where there had been some other touchups in the background of the Capitol portrait.

Gibson also examined a photograph of Juan Seguin taken when he was much older and concluded that "all three images are most likely of the same individual."

As a forensic artist, Gibson has been conferring with victims and witnesses of crimes to compose sketches of suspects for 28 years. She is listed in the "Guinness Book of World Records" as the world's most successful forensic artist, having produced sketches that have enabled law enforcement to catch more than 1,062 criminals.



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