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Portrait of Charlotte Pepper Gignilliat (Mrs. James Gignilliat)(1748-1803)

ca. 1775
Origin: America, South Carolina, Charleston
Unframed: 29 3/4 x 24 3/4in. (75.6 x 62.9cm)
Painting: Oil on canvas. Frame: Mahogany and white pine (by microanalysis).
Partial Gift, Thomas McCutchen Gignilliat and Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1973-217,A&B
A half-length portrait of a young woman turned one quarter towards the viewer's left. She has brown eyes and medium-brown hair and apparently stands, but with her proper right elbow resting on a ledge behind her. Above the ledge is the faint impression of the edge of a frame or architectural element. Her hair is piled on top of her head and twined with strings of pearls. She wears a gold-colored "pseudo" ("antique-type" or imaginary) dress with double, bell-shaped, elbow-length sleeves and, at the waistline, a green belt with a design in gold worked into or imprinted on the fabric. A length of maroon-colored fabric is draped over her proper right shoulder. Above her head is a bit of blue and yellow painting; what it signifies is not clear. Otherwise, the background is a dark brown.

The 2 5/8-inch flat cypress frame veneered with cross-banded mahogany is an early 19th century, locally-made replacement. It consists of a flat sight edge, followed by a half-round molding, then a flat veneered surface, and finally a cyma recta molded outer edge. See CWF furniture conservator Chris Swan's conservation and examination report of 9/6/2011.
Label:The handsome portraits of the Gignilliats of Charleston, South Carolina, and later Darien, Georgia, descended in the family until their acquisition by Colonial Williamsburg. The couple married in 1766. In the seventeenth century, the Gignilliat family moved from Switzerland to Charleston, where they became large landowners. James and Charlotte had residences in Charleston and at their plantation on the Broad River. After the Revolutionary War, they moved to Georgia, where he operated a rice plantation named Contentment.
Benbridge’s skillful use of color is balanced and lovely, particularly in the portrait of Mrs. Gignilliat. She wears “portrait dress,” that is, clothing that was donned just for the portrait or that was, perhaps, fictitious, created by the artist. James is probably wearing his own clothing.
Provenance:The portrait and its companion, acc. no. 1973-216, descended in the family of the sitters until acquired by CWF in 1973, although the earliest part of the line of descent is undocumented (and appears to have been speculated by various genealogists).

From the sitters to their eldest son, James, Jr. (1767-?) (see n. 1); to James, Jr.'s nephew and niece-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Norman Page Gignilliat, i.e., Norman Page Gignilliat (1809-1871), and his wife, Charlotte Gignilliat Trezevant Gignilliat (1819-1910) of Darien and Marietta, Ga. See n. 2.

From an undocumented date until 1910, the two portraits are said (n. 3) to have been owned by James Gignilliat (exact identity and dates undetermined) and Margaret Gignilliat Trezevant [sic; the compiler believes this name to be an error for Charlotte Gignilliat Trezevant Gignilliat [1819-1910]); to G[eorge] W[arren] Gignilliat, who owned them from 1910 until 1926; to Charles Gignilliat, Sr., who owned them from 1926 to 1955; to his son, Thomas McCutchen Gignilliat of Seneca, SC, CWF's source, who owned them from 1955 to 1973. (See n. 3 for the source of information in this last paragraph).