Clarissa W. Munger Badger
Clarissa W. Munger was born in East Guilford, Connecticut, in 1806 to George Munger and Parnel Kelsey Munger. Her father, George, was a portrait painter and engraver. Clarissa, her older brother George, and her younger sister Caroline all became artists as well. Caroline specialized in portraits, as had her father, and Clarissa focused on botanical art, typically done in watercolors. As a botanical illustrator, Clarissa published three volumes of flower paintings, all of which were accompanied by poetry.
Books and Works on Paper
In 1848 Clarissa Munger Badger, who wrote under the name C. M. Badger, privately published A Forget-Me-Not: Flowers from Nature with Selected Poetry. It included verse by William Cullen Bryant, Lydia Sigourney, and Mary Howitt, among others, and it was illustrated with thirteen of Clarissa’s flower paintings.
In 1859, Charles Scribner published Clarissa’s Wild Flowers Drawn and Colored from Nature (informally known as “The Wild Flowers of America”), which was charmingly illustrated with twenty-two plates of such common flowers as columbine, wood lily, honeysuckle, and fringed gentian.
The poems themselves are believed to have been penned by Clarissa, with an additional introductory poem by Lydia Sigourney. The poet Emily Dickinson owned a copy of this book, gifted to her by her father. That inscribed volume is in the Emily Dickinson Library Collection held at Harvard University and may be viewed online. The illustrations in this volume were widely reproduced, and they were reputed, at the time, to be among the best botanical illustrations in America. Most recently, Emily’s copy was featured in the 2017 exhibition, “I’m Nobody. Who are you? The Life and Works of Emily Dickinson” at New York City’s famed Morgan Library.
Clarissa’s third book, Floral Belles from the Green-House and Garden, was published by Scribner in 1867 with sixteen hand-colored lithographic plates. Most of these illustrations feature two or three flowers in clusters or bouquets. The paintings are accompanied by poetry about each flower species. The poems in this volume are by Badger herself and by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Felicia Hemans, and others.
The publisher, who priced the work at $30 when it was issued, advertised this volume eloquently: “The volume is a stately folio, elegantly bound in Turkey morocco and the paper and presswork, and the whole mechanical execution are perfect. There are sixteen pictures in the volume — favorite or representative flowers — and each of them is painted from nature by the patient and laborious hand of the artist, and with such exquisite care and taste, and delicacy of touch as to vie with nature herself.“
A book reviewer in the popular monthly magazine Hours at Home (December 1866) declared that the work was “without exaggeration, a most unique, highly artistic and gorgeous affair – a work that reflects great credit on the artistic taste of the country, as well as on the genius and industry of the author.”
Much later, author Judith Farr noted in her book, The Gardens of Emily Dickinson, that the popularity of Badger’s graceful, stylized paintings in her own day was “dwarfed by her male counterparts.” Farr argued that “only now is she being applauded as a fine botanical artist.”
Clarissa’s Works on Textiles
Clarissa also painted on textiles, as evidenced by two pieces that recently surfaced in a search for her remarkable work. The smaller work, a silk scarf, is in the collection of the Madison Historical Society. The larger work, a stunning quilt with thirty-six hand-painted or embroidered panels, is privately owned by a direct descendant. The MHS extends its gratitude to the owner for allowing us to photograph this magnificent artwork and to show it here.
Clarissa’s Family Life
Clarissa (b. 1806) and her siblings George (b. 1803), Caroline (b. 1808), and Amanda Ann (b. 1813) were raised in East Guilford in a home near the Neck River on the Boston Post Road. (A much younger sibling, Susan, born in 1821, died as a toddler.) In 1828 Clarissa married the Reverend Milton Badger, who was, at the time, a minister in Andover, Massachusetts. A native of Coventry, Connecticut, Milton was born on May 6, 1800, the youngest of the twelve children of Enoch and Mary Badger. He graduated from Yale College in 1823 and studied at Andover Theological Seminary and at Yale Divinity School. When he finished his studies in 1826, he immediately accepted an invitation to serve as pastor of the Old South Church in Andover, Massachusetts, where he was ordained on January 3, 1828, and served until 1835. Milton’s colleague, the Reverend Leverett Griggs, said, “There was never greater prosperity in the Old South Church than when Milton Badger was its pastor.”
In 1835, with some reluctance to leave his successful pastorate, Milton became the associate secretary of the American Home Missionary Society, a job that required him to assess the qualifications of other ministers who were sent to work in the western United States. In her book, Historical Sketches of Andover (Houghton, 1880), author Sarah Loring Bailey noted that the friends of the Missionary Society regarded him as “remarkably fitted for this work” and that his “success in this field of labor justified the expectations formed.” A sketch of his “unremitting labors” published after his death gives an account of the changes he made in the churches of the Western States and Territories. He served in this position, living with Clarissa and their family in New York City, until 1869.
Of their five children, only two sons, George and William, survived to adulthood, and both became physicians. When Milton developed a malady of the kidneys, then called Bright’s disease, he and Clarissa returned to Madison, where Milton died on March 1, 1873. He is buried in Madison’s West Cemetery.
The Historical Sketches went on to say, of Clarissa, that “Besides her labors as minister’s wife, Mrs. Badger did much in Andover to awaken and cultivate aesthetic and literary taste among the young people. She painted with much feeling and delicacy the wild flowers which are so abundant in Andover, and arranged her paintings in a volume, with appropriate poetical selections. Some of her books, given as souvenirs, are among most highly prized volumes in the parish. At the age of seventy-five, she still continues this pleasant employment.”
Clarissa died in 1889 at the age of 83. She too is buried in Madison’s West Cemetery.
The Painter and the Conservator
The painter who created the images of Clarissa Munger Badger and her husband was the portraitist and engraver Nathaniel Jocelyn (1796-1881). Born in New Haven, Jocelyn was the eldest son of clockmaker Simeon Jocelin and Luceanah Smith. Nathaniel trained with his father as a watch and clock maker, but by age twenty he had taken to engraving, painting, and drawing. (At the age of sixteen, he volunteered for the Governor’s Foot Guard, and he engaged in the defense of Madison during the War of 1812.) By 1819, Jocelyn had set up a small engraving company and, in that year, he married Sarah Plant of New Haven. At that time, Nathaniel was the student of Clarissa’s father, George, who painted his young pupil in 1817, when Jocelyn was twenty-one years old, leaving one of the few likenesses of the artist.
In the early 1820s, Jocelyn and his family lived briefly in Savannah, Georgia, where he painted more than twenty-five portraits and miniatures. When they returned to New Haven in 1822, Nathaniel entered a prosperous and prolific period, painting a wide variety of sitters, including several well-known abolitionists. Among these was William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator, whom Jocelyn painted in his New Haven studio while Garrison was a fugitive from justice.
During this period, Jocelyn’s only son, Isaac, age six, perished from a fever, leaving his parents and six sisters to grieve. Nathaniel’s bereavement was interrupted when the Jocelyn brothers learned of the appearance of the Spanish schooner Amistad in Long Island Sound. Together the brothers sought counsel for the trial and defense of Sengbe Pieh, also known as Joseph Cinque, leader of the mutiny of the vessel’s Mende captives. In August 1839, Nathaniel painted his most famous portrait—that of Cinque, owned today by the New Haven Museum. In 1846-1847, he painted the Badgers in his New York studio. In 1858, he and Simeon left a parcel, now called Jocelyn Square, in trust to the City of New Haven to be used as public park and playground. In 1881, at the age of 85, Nathaniel died at his home on York Street. He is buried in the Grove Street Cemetery.
The art conservator who preserved the beautiful paired portraits of the Badgers in their original frames was the extraordinary Andrew Petryn, who passed away in 2013 at the age of ninety-four. Born on Christmas Day in 1918 in New Haven, he was, according to his obituary, “a leading figure in the world of art and music.” A graduate of Truman Street School, New Haven High School, and Yale University, he trained at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum and at Harvard’s Fogg Museum.
Also a painter and a violinist, Petryn was, for years, the director of art conservation at the Yale Art Gallery. As recorded in his obituary, Petryn’s “commitment to conservation derived from his belief that restoration was mistakenly undertaken with the illusory idea that a painting could be returned to its appearance on the day it was completed. Andy believed that conservation, on the other hand, attempts to demonstrate the unadulterated work of the artist and was most faithful to revealing and maintaining the artist’s true intent.” Petryn used techniques of physics, chemistry, and electron microscopy in his work. He completed his work on the Badger portraits in 1980.
Mrs. C. M. Badger; with an introduction by Mrs. L. H. Sigourney. Wild flowers drawn and colored from nature. New York: Charles Scribner; London, S. Low, son & co.,1859.
Wild flowers drawn and colored from nature – Harvard Library
Bailey, Sarah Loring. Historical Sketches of Andover (Comprising the Present Towns of North Andover and Andover), Massachusetts. Ulan Press, 2012.
Bowman, Mira Chittenden, and Marjorie Lee Chittenden. “The Munger Sisters.” Philip S. Platt, ed., Madison’s Heritage. Madison, CT: Madison Historical Society, 1964.
Farr, Judith. The Gardens of Emily Dickinson. Harvard University Press, 2005.
Kramer, Jack. Women of Flowers: A Tribute to Victorian Women Illustrators. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1996.
Schroeder, Michael D. “Other 19th and Early 20th C. Artists with Surname ‘Munger.’” The Gilbert Munger Web Site, 2006