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Portrait of a Smoot Family Child

ca. 1805
Origin: America, Maryland, St. Mary's County
OH: 32 1/2 in.; OW: 26 3/4 in.; Unframed: OH: 28 in.; OW: 23 1/2 in.
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Thomson Lipscomb
Acc. No. 2017.100.4,A&B
Portrait of a young girl, likely a toddler, in a blue dress with red shoes. She is shown holding a strawberry in her right hand and pointing to a large basket of strawberries with her left. A grey drape with yellow fringe take up a large portion of the dark background.
Label:Joshua Johnson is thought to have been an enslaved member of a household in the Peale family, which included notable American artists Charles Willson Peale, Rembrandt Peale, and Charles Peale Polk. By the late 1790s, Johnson was documented as a free man “of colour.” In 1798, he placed the first of two advertisements in the Baltimore Intelligencer. This was a powerful statement of his professional aspirations.

Of the works attributed to Johnson, more than half depict children. The stylized basket, strawberries, and drapery swag seen here all appear on other Johnson portraits and speak to his familiarity with conventions of the period. Although the exact identity of this sitter is unknown, the young child was a member of the Smoot family of St. Mary’s County, Maryland, through which this portrait descended to its present owners.