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Portrait of Martha Payne (later, Mrs. Jeremiah Strother)(b. 1773)

1789-1791
Origin: America, Virginia, Goochland County
Unframed: 42 15/16 x 37 7/8in. (109 x 96.2cm) and Framed: 43 5/8 x 39 x 2in. (110.8 x 99.1 x 5.1cm)
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase, Partial funds given by The Greenwich Antiques Society in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph H. Hennage
Acc. No. 1995-93,A&B
A three-quarter-length portrait of a young woman standing in a landscape setting, turned slightly towards the viewer's left, and holding a peach in her proper left hand (raised to waist level) and a fan in her proper right (which arm hangs down loosely at her side). She wears a cream-colored, long-sleeved dress having a low, square neckline trimmed in white lace. She also wears a sheer white apron with a wide waistband, the strings tied in a bow at the side. She wears a choker of black cord; another length of black cord suspends a [silver? or pearl?] pendant below her neckline. On each wrist, she wears black strap bracelets fastened with gold clasps. She has brown eyes and long brown hair that is unbound and falls loosely over and around her shoulders. A cat, seated on a stump or rise of ground at lower left in the composition, licks one of its forepaws. The setting is vaguely defined with shrubbery and tree foliage, a tree trunk rising vertically along the upper left side and another forming a diagonal along the lower right side. A pinkish horizon line defines the otherwise dark, gray-clouded sky.

The 1 1/2-inch molded, black-painted, yellow pine frame is original and, because of its idiosyncratic design, is thought to have been locally made. It has no rabbet and rests on the surface of the painting, originally having been nailed to the strainers or stretchers through the front surface edges of the painting. N. B.: Subsequent conservation treatments have provided cushioning to protect the paint surface and improved security between painting and frame. See various reports in the object file.
Label:The name assigned this artist derives from the large commission he fulfilled for Archer Payne, Sr. (1748–1831), and his wife, Martha Dandridge Payne (1748–1791), who lived at New Market plantation in Goochland County, Virginia. The Paynes were portrayed along with their nine surviving children, of whom Martha (b. 1773), shown here, was the second oldest. Mother Martha was the granddaughter of Alexander Spotswood, governor of Virginia from 1710-1722.

The teenager’s portrait is hauntingly luminous: her pale skin, cream-colored dress, and sheer white apron contrast strikingly with the dusky landscape, her dark hair and eyes, and the black cords of her bracelets and necklace. Humor is introduced and realism heightened by Martha’s cat, which nonchalantly grooms itself, oblivious to all else.

The frame is original, its design suggesting rural production. It rests directly on the surface of the picture, originally having been nailed to the wooden stretchers through the front of the canvas.

Provenance:The earliest phase of Payne family descent is undocumented. By 1916, the portrait was owned by John Meem Payne, Amherst, Va., and, by 1953, by Helen S. Henderson, Lynchburg, Va.; it then may have gone through the hands of one or more interim owner(s); by 1977, it was purchased, purportedly from a Payne family descendant, by Mr. and Mrs. William E. Wiltshire III, Richmond, Va.; thence, to Robert E. Crawford Antiques, Manakin-Sabot, Va.; to Dr. and Mrs. Henry P. Deyerle, Harrisonburg, Va.; to CWF via Sotheby's auction May 24-26, 1995.
Inscription(s):No original inscriptions have been found.

In red paint, on the back of the modern Masonite backboard, in the lower right corner, is "1975.3.2".

"K16.53.4" is reported as appearing on the frame but has not been verified as of 10/11/2011.