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Portrait of Mary Blair Braxton (Mrs. George Braxton III)(1734-1799)

1755-1758
Origin: America, Virginia
Unframed: 36 1/2 x 29 1/2in. (92.7 x 74.9cm) and Framed: 42 1/8 x 35 1/4 x 1 1/2in.
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1956-27,A&B
A nearly three-quarter length portrait of a standing young woman, her body full-front, her head turned slightly towards the viewer's right, her eyes to the viewer. She wears an oyster-colored satin gown with elbow-length sleeves terminating in white lace cuffs. The low neckline sports a self-ruffle inset with a lace ruffle. The waistline comes to a point at the front. Her proper left arm is loose and relaxed, the hand just below her waist. Her proper right arm is bent at the elbow, the hand grasping a pink bow affixed center front on her bodice. Her medium-brown hair is pulled back away from her face and trimmed with pink ribbons, one or more strands of pearls, and a deep blue feather. She has blue eyes. The background is a warm brown.

The 3 1/2-inch frame is a black-stained bolection molding having a flat, sanded, gilded liner terminating at the sight edge in stylized acanthus-leaf carving. The frame is possibly original [examination, C. Swan/B. Luck, 11/21/2011]. Also see n. 1 ("Notes").
Label:English-born John Wollaston came to America in 1749 and remained for nearly ten years, creating hundreds of facile and stylish likenesses of colonials and exerting marked influence on American contemporaries such as Benjamin West, Matthew Pratt, and John Mare. Wollaston evidently executed his handsome paired likenesses of George and Mary Blair Braxton during his stay in Virginia from 1755 to 1757/1758.

The subject came from a prominent Williamsburg family, her parents being John Blair, Sr. (1687-1771) and Mary Munro Blair (1708-ca. 1768). Her 1753 marriage to wealthy landholder George Braxton III (1734-1761) of nearby King William County seemed an auspicious match, but he died young, at age twenty-seven, and Mary subsequently wed twice more: in 1774, Robert Burwell (d. 30 January 1777) and, in 1792, Roger Prescott (d. 27 May 1795). Thus, Mary outlived all three of her husbands.

Mary and George Braxton had four children: Mary Blair Braxton (b. 25 September 1754; d. 1756); Sarah Braxton (b. 28 November 1755; d. April 1756); Mary Braxton (b. 21 September 1757; d. 22 February 1764); and Elizabeth Braxton (b. 3 February 1759; d. 24 August 1818). Wollaston's paired portraits of Mary and George Braxton thus descended through their fourth daughter, the couple's only child who lived to adulthood. See "Provenance" for a more detailed line of descent.


Provenance:In a letter to CWF of 24 January 1956, CWF's source, Ellen A. Wyeth, stated that "except for my grandfather, these portraits [i.e., 1956-26 and 1956-27] have been handed down through the distaff side of the family (including three Mary Blairs) . . . . "

Per the preceding statement, CWF's companion portraits of George and Mary Braxton are speculated to have descended from the subjects to their daughter, Elizabeth Braxton Whiting (Mrs. Henry Whiting)(1759-1818); to her daughter, Mary Blair Whiting Little (Mrs. Robert Howe Little)(1781-1857) of Millwood, Clarke Co., Va.; to her daughter, Mary Blair Little Horner (Mrs. Richard Brent Horner)(?-?); to her son, Robert Little Horner (?-?) of Warrenton, Va.; to his daughter, Ellen Horner Wyeth (Mrs. Parker Campbell Wyeth)(?-1954) of St. Joseph, Missouri [see n. 1 below]; to her four children, one of whom, Miss Ellen A. Wyeth of St. Joseph, Missouri, acted as CWF's vendor on behalf of the four [see nos. 2-3 below].

n. 1: In 1887, the companion portraits of George and Mary Braxton were loaned to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts ("Exhibition History" and "Publication References") by Mrs. Henrietta Braxton Wyeth. It is not clear whether she owned the portraits outright and exclusively (or, perhaps, merely acted as their lender on behalf of other family members-owners). Henrietta Braxton Horner Wyeth was Mrs. Francis Houston Wyeth of Philadelphia and was also a sister of Robert Little Horner and Frederick Horner ("Bibliography").

n. 2 : One of Miss Ellen A. Wyeth's siblings was Sara Wyeth Floyd (Mrs. William H. Floyd, 3rd) of Arlington, Va. The remaining sister and a brother are not identified in CWF file correspondence.

n. 3: Most genealogical data and names are from Horner ("Bibliography").

Mark(s):Two (mostly) typewritten labels that were tacked to the back of the frame during a loan to the Corcoran and moved to the back of the backing board by conservtor Sheldon Keck read as follows.

First: "MRS. GEORGE BRAXTON/1734-1799/Sister of John Blair/Signer of the Constitution/Artist Unknown/ - - - - - -/Lent by Mrs. Parker Campbell Wyeth". Handwritten in the lower left corner of the label is "39".

Second: "Since the opening of this Exhibition/it has been definitely decided that/this portrait was painted by/John Wollaston/operavit 1750-1767".