COLLECTION: Painters and Paintings in the Early American South

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Portrait of Mary Orange Rothery (Mrs. Matthew Rothery)(b. 1747)

1773
Origin: America, Virginia, Norfolk
Unframed: 30" x 25" and Framed: 36" x 31" x 1 1/4"
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase; Conserved through the generosity of Kinsey Marable and The Antique Collectors Guild
Acc. No. 1991-150,A
A half-length portrait of a buxom woman, her torso turned in 3/4 view towards the viewer's left, her eyes towards the viewer. Feigned, plain, dimensional (pseudo architectural) spandrels fill the corners of the composition. Her brown hair is pulled back from her face, slightly feathered over the near ear, and poufed atop her head; her hair is also ornamented with flowers, a white paste (or diamond?) brooch, and a lace veil or mantilla that hangs down behind her head and shoulders. Her eyes are a grayish-blue. Her near ear displays a circular, faceted, domed, [hammered-metal? or paste?] earring. A black ribbon choker circles her neck, possibly tied at the nape with the wide blue bow that is partially visible there. A [metal? or cord?] necklace suspends a pendant, which is tucked, unseen, inside her bodice. She wears a square-necked, blue damask gown having elbow-length sleeves that are trimmed with ruching, double rows of damask ruffles, and double rows of wide lace ruffles. A large blue bow beneath a sprig of roses is centered at the top of her bodice. Her gown seems to have a sack back. Her proper left hand hangs down out of the composition. Her proper right grasps a book bound in brown leather. The background is a soft brown.

The current, 3 1/4-inch frame is a period replacement that was acquired independently and accessioned separately by CWF (as 1971-3344). It incorporates a 1 1/2-inch black-painted bolection molding, inside of which appears a wide (1 3/4-inch) liner that is sanded, gold-painted, and has, at the sight edge, a line of carved acanthus leaf ornament. The frame received on the painting (accessioned as 1991-150,B) is a narrow, gilded 19th-century replacement overall-carved with flower sprigs. It is pictured in photocopied images in the object file.
Label:Marriage and coming of age were two life events often marked by the commissioning of portraits. Such a practice was common in the northeast, where resident artists were more available than in the South. Many southern sitters could commission such portraits only when itinerant or traveling artists were available in their area. That would explain why John Durand painted, signed, and dated the portrait of Mary Orange Rothery ten years after her 1763 marriage to Matthew Rothery. The same may be said of Lucy Skelton Gilliam, who was married in 1760 but whose portrait was not done until 1780.
Durand was capable of capturing good likenesses throughout much of his career. His sitters’ faces show none of the formulaic mannerisms used by artists such as John Wollaston Jr. in the 1750s–1760s or John Hesselius in the 1760s–early 1770s.
Provenance:On 15 September 1868, the portrait was in the possession of (and presumably owned by) a [Mr. and Mrs. Griffith? writing barely legible]; see Hugh Blair Grigsby ("Bibliography").

Thence, to presumed, intervening, unidentified owner(s) . . . .

to [Holloday Mitchell?] of Portsmouth, Va.; to his [relation?], Martha Kinsey Marable (Mrs. Eugene Russell Marable, Jr. (1924-1990) of Petersburg, Va.; to her two children, Kinsey Marable of Rapidan, Va., and Miss Martha Mitchell Marable (1957-2005) of Petersburg and Charlottesville, Va., the latter being CWF's vendor as administrator of her mother's estate.

Possibly conflicting statements from Miss Martha Marable make it unclear whether the portrait sitter was related to her. In one place, Marable claimed the portrait was "inherited" by her mother [Lauren Suber curator worksheet August 1991]; in another, Marable expressed doubt that the portrait had "any long connection with her family," adding that she thought it came into her mother's possession at an auction about 1940 [memo, Graham Hood to files dated 15 April 1991]. Of course, it might have been a "family" portrait ---- and still have been bought (vs. inherited). In the object file, Susan Shames's email of 10 November 2011 summarizes her attempts to establish a possible line of descent.

Inscription(s):Per Cleo Mullins's conservation report of 29 January 1993, slide DS90-872, and the file memo of 25 February 1993 from Graham Hood and Laurie Suber, the back of the canvas primary support was initially Inscribed "Marie Rother/aged. 26, A. D. 1773/J. Durand. painted". The inscription was later amended [GH and LS claim by the artist], the amendment consisting of superimposing a "y" over the "ie" in "Marie" and adding a "y" to the end of "Rother."

Mullins also recorded "15 - D" written in pink chalk on the paint surface in the lower right corner.

The painted lettering on the spine of the book in the subject's hand is largely indecipherable. Mullins recorded it as " . . . [D, O, Q, or U?]AUTI/. . . OCCTS".