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Valencourt and Emily

Probably 1805-1825
Origin: America, Connecticut
Primary Support: 12 5/16 x 10in. (31.3 x 25.4cm) and Framed: 15 5/16 x 13in.
Watercolor, ink, and pencil on wove paper
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1958.301.4
Within a vertical oval format, the scene shows a young woman in a white dress, seated and slumped in her chair at center front, her bonnet on the ground in front of her. Three men stand behind her, one in a uniform directly behind her holds a drinking glass towards her, the man at far left holds his hat in his hands in front of him, the man at far right is shown in profile in a blue robe. The group is assembled beneath a tree; a man in a boat is visible at the left in the background. Lettering appears above and below the compositional oval.
The 3/4-inch molded and gilded frame is a period replacement.
Label:Pinney's meticulous rendering of detail and her careful control of the watercolor medium rank this example among the artist's more polished works. Myriad, finely executed aspects of costume decoration, such as the heroine's flower-embroidered cap and her dress's neck ruffles and sleeve ruches, all contribute to a sense of the exactitude with which Pinney approached her project, while they also create visual interest and heighten the piece's value as a record of clothing styles.
The streaky rendition of the lower left foreground is one of the most successful of several means that Pinney used to depict grasses. She appears to have achieved the effect by stroking a nearly dry brush laden with green over a yellow background wash. A fine, uneven green line running through this foreground section and the separation of levels of dry-brush strokes both convey a realistic sense of irregular terrain. Frequently, as in this case, Pinney combined a variety of ground and grass treatments in a single composition.
The watercolor illustrates an incident from Chapter 38 of Ann Radcliffe's Gothic romance titled THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO. The book was first published in London in 1794, but it achieved an extraordinary degree of popularity and reappeared in numerous subsequent editions through the nineteenth century and, indeed, into the twentieth. According to Radcliffe's story, Udolpho was a medieval castle in the Apennines, where mysterious dealings with the forces of evil occurred in the seventeenth century. The chief victim of these supernatural powers was an innocent English girl, Emily St. Aubert, depicted here in a fainting slump. Behind her, her noble and courageous lover, the chevalier de Valencourt, attempts to revive her with a glass of water, while to the viewer's right and left, respectively, stand other characters in the story, the count de Villefort and his son, Henri. (Ultimately, Valencourt breaks the spell of Udolpho or, rather, he exposes the fact that its "mysteries" can all be explained in rational terms)[Note 1]. Certainly Pinney derived her studied composition from a printed illustration of the Udolpho incident, but no book plates checked to date have corresponded with the watercolored scene.
Provenance:J. Stuart Halladay and Herrell George Thomas, Sheffield, Mass. Halladay died in 1951, leaving his interest in their jointly-owned collection to his partner, Thomas. Thomas died in 1957, leaving his estate to his sister, Mrs. Albert N. Petterson, who was AARFAC's vendor.

Inscription(s):The block letters in the oval surround read: "Valencourt and Emily soon after hre return from the castle of Udolpho./At the sound of his voice she rais'd her eyes but soon closed them and again fainted."