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Portrait of Lucy Skelton Gilliam (Mrs. Robert Gilliam) (1743-1789)

1780
Origin: America, Virginia, Petersburg area
Unframed: 31 1/2 x 25 1/4 in. (80 x 64.1cm) and Framed: 35 1/2 x 29 7/8 in.
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase and partial gift, Estate of Mary Bragg Dodd
Acc. No. 2004-40,A
A half-length portrait of a woman, head and body turned 3/4 to the left, eyes toward viewer. The subject has dark brown hair and gray eyes. She wears a gold silk gown with ivory-colored lace and large bows at neckline and elbows. A white cap with one lapet visible is positioned atop her high-piled hair. She holds an ivory fan on a diagonal, using both hands. Her jewelry includes a black ribbon choker, a mourning (?) pendant on a black cord, a multi-strand necklace of seed pearls, two rings with gemstones, and a pearl (?) hat pin. The dark brown background is relieved with a red drape and tassle at upper left.
The 3-inch frame is a mid-nineteenth-century replacement of a plain, splayed, stained wood molding with a plain gilt liner, possibly Spanish cedar veneer over white pine secondary wood. [Tentative wood identifications are based on a visual examination by Jon Prown].
Label:The sitter was the daughter of James Skelton and Jane Meriwether (Mereweather) Skelton of Hanover County, Virginia. In 1760, Lucy married Robert Gilliam of Prince George County, Virginia. A planter, Gilliam was of middling wealth, as were many of John Durand’s customers in Virginia and Connecticut.
The pose, including the closed fan, is typical of eighteenth-century women’s portraiture. It was used by several artists in the colonies from about 1755–1785. Over the course of nearly twenty years, Durand improved his technique, including his rendering of fabrics and modeling of faces.
Provenance:In her letter of June 6, 1999, Mary Bragg Dodd stated that Lucy's portrait (along with other Durand portraits representing John Gilliam, Robert Gilliam, and Meriwether Skelton) had once belonged to her grandfather [name not given]. These portraits were inherited by her grandfather's oldest son, "Robert Gilliam, once Mayor of Petersburg, Va." [N. B. In 1929, the four portraits were published as belonging to Robert Gilliam III of Petersburg, Va. (See Richard D. Gilliam, "Skelton and Shelton: Two Distinct Virginia Families" in WILLIAM AND MARY QUARTERLY, Series 2, Vol. 9, no. 3 (July 1929), p. 215)].
In her letter of June 6, 1999, Dodd further stated that the four portraits were [later] inherited by her uncle, Herbert Gilliam, who allowed Dodd to take one of her choice. Dodd chose that of Meriwether Skelton, leaving that of John Gilliam for Herbert Gilliam's daughter [name not given; in a letter of July 16, 1999, however, Dodd stated that Herbert Gilliam's daughter "never received it"; this portrait's whereabouts remain unknown]. In her letter of June 6, 1999, Dodd wrote that the portrait of Robert Gilliam "was given to the only living descendant -- Robert Gilliam who lives in New York." [Evidently Dodd meant the only living descendant bearing the Gilliam name]. Dodd does not say who received the portrait of Lucy, only that she [Dodd] "rescued it from my cousin's attic in Lexington, Mass."
In 2014 CWF was contacted by a descendent who wrote that the portrait of John Gilliam, Jr. descended to Robert Skelton Gilliam. A cousin, Robert Gilliam, purchsed the portrait from him. This Robert Gilliam was the one who owned it along with the other 3 portraits in 1929. In 1940, the portrait was purchased from Robert Gilliam of Petersburg by another cousin and given to Robert Skelton Gilliam's son. The portrait of John Gilliam, Jr. was passed down in his family to the current owner.
No prior or more precise history has been recorded as of 4/4/2014.
Inscription(s):On the reverse of the original canvas, still visible through the new lining fabric, in block-style letters in black paint, is: "Lucy Gilliam/ aged 37 AD. 1780./J. Durand Pinxit."