Seeing Green: Quick Bite

Today on Museum Quick Bites we’re diving into Jeptha Homer Wade’s, Portrait of Nathaniel Olds (1837). This rare and unusual painting features Wade’s landlord tricked out in a funky pair of green-tinted spectacles. Let’s zoom in for a closer look…

Portrait of Nathaniel Olds (1837) by Jeptha Homer Wade, Cleveland Museum of Art

Starting at the top, note Nathaniel’s unkempt curls, thick eyebrows, and side-eye gaze. His five o’clock shadow suggests Nathaniel has been holding his rigid pose for quite some time. But he’s doing it with style. The stiff, upturned collar, Chalamet hair, and swanky Argand glasses signify Nathaniel’s wealth and sense of flair. 

Close-Ups of the Portrait of Nathaniel Olds (1837) by Jeptha Homer Wade, Cleveland Museum of Art

The green-tinted lenses and clever wrap-around frame were designed to protect a person’s eyes from the bright light emitted by Argand lamps. It is unclear if Nathaniel wore the glasses because one or more of these lamps were used to light his sitting, or if the trendy shades were a fashion statement. Regardless, they add a dash of panache to his portrait. However, Edgar Allan Poe would disagree.

Green spectacles are an abomination, fitted only for students of divinity.

~ Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), The Philosophy of Furniture (1840)

Wade also painted a companion portrait of Nathaniel’s wife. Although lacking spectacles and much less cheery, Portrait of Sally Avery Olds (1837), shows off Wade’s skill with a brush and paints. According to the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA), the couple lived in Farmersville, New York, and at the time were Wade’s landlords. Wade received $18 for his work.

Portrait of Sally Avery Olds (1837) by Jeptha Homer Wade, Cleveland Museum of Art

Fun Illuminating Fact:  The Argand lamp was invented by Swiss physicist and chemist, Aimé Argand (1750-1803). Patented in 1784, this new-fangled candle-free lamp was the got-to-have-it merch of the early 1800s (see Peale Painting below).

Argand’s ingenious design produced 10x more light and a cleaner, smoke-free flame. Some, however, worried the increased brightness would damage their eyes, and the Argand glasses were invented. If you’d like to learn more, click on this Argand Lamp link, courtesy of Britannica

James Peale (1822) by Charles Willson Peale, Detroit Institute of Arts

Fun Argand Fact:  Portraits featuring Argand glasses are rare. Below are two additional examples.

Left: Man Reading by Candlelight (c1805-1808) by Rembrandt Peale, Detroit Institute of Arts

Right: Portrait of a Gentleman (1839) by José Buzo Cáceres, The College of Optometrists Museum, London, UK

Artist’s Brief Background: Jeptha Homer Wade (1811-1890) was born in Romulus, New York to Sarah Allen and Jeptha Wade. At an early age, Wade, Jr. began an apprenticeship as a tanner and carpenter. When he was 21, Wade married Rebecca Loueza Facer (1812-1836), but she died just four years later. The following year, he married Susan Maranda Fleming (1814-1889). Little is known about Wade’s artistic background, but according to the CMA, he also worked as an itinerant portraitist when he was in his 20s.

Jeptha Homer Wade (1850) ambrotype by MB Brady, engraved by JC Buttre, US Library of Congress

In the 1840s, Wade took a job building infrastructure to connect telegraph lines between Detroit and Jackson, Michigan. Within two years, he helped establish the Cleveland and Cincinnati Telegraph Company, which went on to construct telegraph lines throughout the Midwest and upstate New York.

Worker Repairing Telegraph Line (c1862), photo by AJ Russell US Library of Congress

In 1856, Wade moved to Cleveland and co-founded the Western Union Telegraph Company. Within a year he became the first general agent of Western Union and over the course of several years worked his way up to become the president of the company. According to Case Western Reserve University’s Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Wade stepped down after only one year, due to poor health. The intrepid Wade made a quick recovery and within a year became the director of not one but eight railroads.

Western Union Telegram Envelope (c1861-1865) US Library of Congress

Wade also dabbled in other industries. He helped incorporate Cleveland Rolling Mill Company, established Citizens Savings and Loan Association, and became the first president of the National Bank of Commerce, to name a few. In his later years, he added philanthropy to his résumé, donating land to Case Western Reserve University, as well as 75 acres (green acres!) along the Doan Brook River to be made into a park. Check out the telegraph poles in the postcard of Wade Park featured below!

Postcard of Doan Brook, Wade Park, Cleveland, OH (c1903) Detroit Publishing Co, Wikimedia Commons

Wade died in 1890, just two days shy of his 79th birthday. Multi-talented and hardworking, Jeptha Homer Wade played an important role in Cleveland, as well as US history. And you could say, he saw a lot of green 😉  If you’d like to learn more about his legacy, click on this Jeptha Homer Wade biography, courtesy of Case Western Reserve University.

University Circle, Cleveland Ohio (c1908) US Library of Congress

That concludes our look at Nathaniel Olds and Jeptha Homer Wade. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. In the meantime, be safe, be kind, and take care 🙂

Cover photo (cropped) by David Zydd, Pixabay.


ArtUK: Who is the spectacled gentleman of this portrait by José Buzo Cáceres? (2014)

Britannica: Argand Burner

Britannica: Western Union Corporation

Case Western Reserve University Encyclopedia of Cleveland History: JH Wade I

Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA)

Cleveland Museum of Art: Museum History-Founders

Cleveland Museum of Art: Portrait of Nathaniel Olds (1837) by JH Wade

Cleveland Museum of Art: Portrait of Sally Avery Olds (1837) by JH Wade

Corning Museum of Glass: Argand Lamp

Detroit Institute of Arts: Man Reading by Candlelight (c1805-1808) by Rembrandt Peale

Detroit Institute of Arts: James Peale (1822) by Charles Willson Peale

Ohio Link: Jeptha Homer Wade Family Papers

Open Culture: Edgar Allan Poe Offers Interior Design Advice


The College of Optometrists Museum: A Spanish Gentleman (1839) by José Buzo Caceres

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