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Woman with Sewing Box

Probably 1838-1842
Origin: America [possibly Massachusetts, Ipswich]
Unframed: 51 1/2 x 42 3/8 in (130.8 x 107.6 cm) and Framed: 58 7/8 x 49 3/8 in.
Oil on canvas
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
Acc. No. 1936.100.16
A full-length portrait of a seated young woman shown in an interior. She wears a black, V-necked dress with a white lace collar fastened by a rectangular brooch; the brooch seems to represent a bust-length cameo portrait of a man in profile. Her dress has loose sleeves with bands of ruching over the upper arms and the tightly-fitting cuffs. She also wears a sheer black shawl or scarf pulled around her shoulders. The tips of her black shoes protrude from beneath her skirt. On her proper right hand, she wears a plain gold ring on her middle finger and, on her ring finger, a gold band set with a black stone surrounded by pearls. She has brown eyes and medium-brown hair, which is dressed in loops descending from the temples and ringlets hanging behind her exposed ears. A tendril curls over her near temple. Two narrow, black, braided bands holds her center-parted hair in place.

The woman sits in a grain-painted klismos-leg side chair with median stretchers and with gold striping on the crest. She sits beside a mahogany (or mahogany-veneered) round topped, center table having large scrolled feet on brass casters. Atop the table is a square box with a partially-opened drawer from which a small pair of ornamented scissors protrudes. Atop the box is a small, conical sewing stand having a round foot (base); it is fashioned to hold pins and needles in its stuffed top and, below, spools of thread in two tiers. A thimble also rests on the box.

The woman's body and chair are turned in three-quarter view towards the onlooker's right; she rests her proper left elbow on the table and rests the side of her face against her upraised hand. An open book lined with mock writing rests in her lap, and she holds her place in it with the extended index finger of her proper right hand. She looks up at the viewer as if interrupted in her reading. The floor is covered with a green, white, and mustard-yellow carpet having a repetitive stylized floral design enclosed in blocks. The baseboard of the room is green, the back wall a warm brown.

Artist unidentified.

The original, 4-inch, grain-painted, molded frame has a yellow-painted sight edge and quarter-round outer edge.

Label:Life-size, full-length portraits of adults were rare, for generally this impressive format was reserved for prestigious subjects, such as heads of state, and for the few private individuals who could afford such large paintings. Middle-class subjects more typically appeared half-length on smaller supports. Thus, one assumes substantial sentiment, wealth, or both were involved in the commissioning of this striking image.

The subject pauses in her reading, keeping her place on the page with her extended finger. On the table sits a sewing box suggesting her skill as a needlewoman, a valued accomplishment for young ladies. In 1936, she was known only as “Miss Appleton of Ipswich.” One candidate for this unverified identification is Anstice Appleton of Ipswich, Massachusetts, who died unmarried, aged twenty-two, in 1843.

Provenance:Katrina Kipper, Accord, Mass.; bought from Kipper in November 1936 by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, by whom given to CWF.