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The Maryland Family

ca. 1820
Origin: America, possibly Maryland
Unframed: 29 15/16 x 59 1/4in. (76 x 150.5cm) and Framed: 35 1/8 x 64 11/16in.
Oil on canvas
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
Acc. No. 1934.100.2
A triple portrait that is vertically divided into four sections, or compartments. The section at the far right shows a tall, multi-branched tree, with two smaller ones near its base and set in a landscape. The other three sections are all portraits.

The center section of the three shows a seated woman in a black dress with a wide white ruffled collar and a white ruffled cap; she also wears black beads. She is seated sideways in a blue side chair embellished with floral decorations, her proper right arm flung back over the chair's crest and and supported by it. The two sections to either side of her enclose standing children.

To the [viewer's] left of the woman, a small boy in a blue, white-collared suit holds a piece of fruit in his proper right hand; his proper left arm hangs at his side. He has short, reddish hair.

To the [viewer's] right of the woman, a girl in a long-sleeved white dress with a red sash at the high waistline raises her proper right arm to rest her hand on the adjacent woman's shoulder; her proper left arm hangs by her side. She wears a necklace and has short, reddish-brown hair.

Circular areas behind the children's heads are painted lighter and redder than the surrounding background.

Artist unidentified.

The 2 3/4-inch molded, black-painted frame is a modern replacement.
Label:The significance of the unusual composition is unknown, although some features suggest it is a memorial. The woman's black dress and beads may be mourning attire while, on the right, a tall tree flanked by smaller ones conceivably symbolize a dead husband/father and offspring. The halo effects around the children's heads could reflect their recent demise. Regardless, the picture's rigid, four-part compartmentalization emphasizes the figures' blunt separation --- and adds poignancy to the only break in it: the girl's hand on her mother's shoulder. Finally, by sitting sideways in her chair with one arm flung over its crest, the woman strikes a pose generally reserved for men. Has her husband's death forced unaccustomed responsibilities on her? Until the family is identified, such interpretations remain speculative.

The painting was bought in Kentucky, but its former owner said it had come from Maryland originally, hence its tentative title.
Provenance:Katherine Turner, Lexington, Kentucky; purchased by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, by whom given to CWF.