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Martha Spinney Simes (Mrs. Bray Underwood Simes)(1808-ca. 1883)

ca. 1835
Origin: America, New Hampshire, Milton Mills (probably)
Unframed: 33 1/2 x 28 1/4in. (85.1 x 71.8cm) and Framed: 40 x 35 1/4in.
Oil on canvas
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
Acc. No. 1936.100.11
A half-length portrait of a young woman seated on a red-upholstered, possibly Grecian-style sofa, her proper left arm resting on the seat's crestrail and her proper right arm on its arm (or bolster? which is unclear) having a decorated (carved wooden?) terminus partly turned toward the viewer. The configuration of the sofa appears contradictory and may be partly invented by the artist. Brass tacks are visible along the back of the sofa, holding the fabric in place. The subject is turned 1/4 towards the viewer's right.

The woman wears a rich green dress having a broad, seemingly satin belt and voluminous "leg-o-mutton" style sleeves, the sleeve cuffs being trimmed in a single row of lace. Her dress's off-the-shoulder neckline is filled with white lace having embroidered oval and diamond shapes in the border. Fastened at the top center of her bodice is an oval brooch of light blue overlaid with white impasto (perhaps meant to suggest a cameo), the stone set in a gold case having a beaded rim.

The sitter also wears a necklace of black beads bearing light blue highlights; the two strands of the beads are joined by additional beads between them to make, not a double strand necklace but one complex stand. The necklace is looped twice around her neck, the longer loop reaching to her waist. She has an oval face with a high forehead and hazel green eyes. Her brown hair is piled high on her head in large smooth curls with a short braid of hair (or, possibly, ribbon) visible above her proper left temple; a corkscrew curl dangles below the braid.

She also wears elaborate earrings of round, light blue stones from which dangle long, teardrop-shaped, light blue stones, the stones (opals?) all set in gold. On her proper left arm, she wears an oval stone of darker blue set in a slim gold band. On the middle finger of her proper left hand, she wears an oval band of pearl-like stones set in a ring. On the forefinger of the same hand, she wears a single black band with small gold ovals in it. On her proper right arm, she wears an oval blue stone set in multiple rows of gold beading, making this bracelet seem more elaborate than, and not an exact match to, the bracelet on her proper left arm. The background is black with reddish hghlights over her proper right shoulder.

Artist unidentified.

The 3 1/2-inch cove-molded, gilt frame is original; it has a sanded inner surface and applied plaster leaf decorations at the corners.
Label:Although illogically placed in the foregrounds of the paintings, the sofa bolsters serve a compositional function: their strong diagonals pull the pictures together, making them effective companion likenesses that were intended to hang side by side. The sitters’ poses and their shared sofa also unify the images.

Saturated color is one of the hallmarks of this artist’s work. The vivid contrast between the green of Martha Simes’s dress and the red of her sofa illustrates this point. Another dramatic feature is her elaborate hairstyle, which echoes the exaggerated fullness of her sleeves. A love of decorative pattern is apparent in the painter’s meticulous depiction of lace, jewelry, rows of upholstery tacks, and the surface of the globe. Bray Simes (1801-1885), a Milton Mills, New Hampshire, merchant, married Martha Spinney (1808-ca. 1883) in 1828.
Provenance:Found in New Hampshire by Katrina Kipper of Accord, Mass.; purchased from Kipper by Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.; given by Rockefeller to CWF in 1939.