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Girl with Gold Beads

ca. 1820
Origin: America, New England
Unframed: 26 3/4 x 22in. (67.9 x 55.9cm) and Framed: 28 x 23 1/4in.
Oil on basswood panel
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1959.100.1
A half-length portrait of a seated girl, her body turned three-quarters towards the viewer's left, her head turned silghtly towards the viewer and her eyes front. She wears a choker of gold beads and a long-sleeved, empire-waisted, white dress having a low, square-cut neckline. A blue drape is pulled around her. Her dark brown hair is pulled back into a knot and held with a comb, while corkscrew curls frame her face. She has gray eyes and holds a red book with gold tooling in her proper left hand, holding a place open with her index finger. Her seat is only partially visible; a brown scrolled arm appears at the viewer's far left and appears to curve around behind the sitter, perhaps representing a sofa. The background is a modulated greenish-gray.

The 1 1/4-inch molded frame is painted yellow and is original.
Label:The portrait is easily identifiable as the work of Zedekiah Belknap thanks to several distinctive mannerisms, including the crisp, continuous, reddish-brown line that defines the far side of the sitter's nose, far eye socket, and far eye brow. The use of a panel (vs. canvas) support is also characteristic of Belknap, as is the underlying, diagonal scoring of the panel --- a method of support preparation intended to encourage adherence of the paint layers.

The scrolled arm of the sofa combines with the enveloping lines of the girl's blue drape and her smoothly-arched brows and corkscrew curls to create a delightful play on curves. The sitter's age is hard to guess, but clearly she is not the toddler that her over-large head, alone, might have indicated. Her upswept, comb-held hair and sophisticated reading pose (with a finger marking her place) are among the factors suggesting she is a young teen.
Provenance:Mary Allis, Fairfield, Conn.; George Abraham-Gilbert May Antiques, West Granville, Mass.).

George Abraham acquired the portrait from Allis along with Belknap's portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Richardson (now believed to be in a private collection).