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Baby with Doll

ca. 1845
Origin: America, Probably Massachusetts
Unframed: 15 3/4 x 12 1/4in. (40 x 31.1cm) and Framed: 21 9/16 x 17 3/4in.
Oil on academy board
From the collection of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; gift of the Museum of Modern Art
Acc. No. 1954.100.1
A full-front, three-quarter-length portrait of a child seated and holding a doll. The subject wears a red dress whose low, square neckline and short sleeves are trimmed with lace. A double strand of red beads encircles the child's neck. The subject has light brown, side-parted hair and blue eyes and sits on a brown-painted, balloon-backed, side chair decorated with pin striping and floral motifs. The doll has on a white dress with an embroidered bodice clsoed by a pink belt forming a V in the front. The black-haired, black-eyed doll also wears a double strand of red beads. The background is brown.

The 3 1/8-inch cyma recta mahogany-veneered frame has a gilt liner and is possibly original.
Label:Although the grayish shading of the facial features seems to add decades to the youngster's apparent age, the modeling is otherwise skillfully done. Its convincing illusion of three-dimensional form contrasts sharply to the exceptionally simplified rendering of other passages, such as the child's and doll's lower arms, which are almost cartoon-like. Such extremes often appear in portraits by Sturtevant Hamblin, his brother-in-law William Matthew Prior (1806-1873), and others, reflecting the artists' attempts to balance economy and efficiency with salability. When critical areas such as faces were carefully modeled, clients were more accepting of sketchiness in the remainders of the compositions.

Is the child a boy or a girl? The portrait conveys conflicting clues. The dress is no help, since youngsters of both sexes wore them during this period. Boys were seldom, if ever, shown with dolls. Yet parents usually parted boys' hair on the side and girls' in the center.

Provenance:Edith Gregor Halpert, Downtown Gallery, New York, NY; acquired from Halpert by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; given by the latter to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, in 1939; given by MoMA to CWF in June 1954.