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Lady on Red Sofa

ca. 1855
Origin: America, Mid-Atlantic or New England
Unframed: 33 3/4 x 27 1/2in. (85.7 x 69.9cm) and Framed: 38 x 32in.
Oil on canvas with small, applied, gilded plaster ornament
From the collection of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
Acc. No. 1948.100.2
A half-length portrait of a woman, seated, shown against a dark background. She wears a black dress with long, tight fitting sleeves and sheer lace duffs. The dress has a long V neckline filled by a white undergarment having buttons down the front and tiny lace or embroidered decoration. She wears a sheer embroidered collar and cap. A gilded, plaster, shell-shaped pin is applied to surface of painting at the point of her collar. She sits on a red upholstered sofa with a book in her proper left hand, her proper right arm resting on the arm of the sofa. Her smooth brown hair is parted in the center and pulled back over her ears. She is turned slightly to her right, her blue-green eyes toward the viewer. Her cheeks are hollow and her expression serene.
The 3-inch gilded and gold-painted frame with applied plaster ornament is probably a twentieth-century replacement.
Label:Fluidly and rapidly executed, these paintings bear no trace of the labored appearance and dry, soft shading of Phillip's work during the early 1820s. A lifetime devoted to the skillful handling of his brush is evident in the precision maintained in most critical passages of these likenesses, while the less important areas of the canvas--for example, the chair and sofa arms--are suggested by loose, impressionistic touches of paint. However, the broken rendering of parts of the woman's face reflects haste and perhaps carelessness.
The rather crude, wetly painted blue veining of the hands and the use of pinkish red brushstrokes to outline the knuckles are characteristic touches that Phillips emplyed thoughout his career. The woman's gilded plaster collar fastening is unusual and may represent a whimsical fancy of the sitter's. The extreme forward leaning pose utilized in many of Phillips's 1830s portraits of women had largely been replaced by the 1840s by the more natural upright position assumed by this woman.
Victorian dress proved extremely compatible with many aspects of Phillips's later style. Sober black garb accented by touches of white provided the stark, graphic settings that advantageously exhibited his sure control of hard edges and crisp facial delineation. Even the woman's smoothly combed hairstyles seem more suited to these flat, high-contrast depictions than the wispy tendrils or clustered curls of earlier periods.
Provenance:Edward Duff Balken, Pittsburgh, Pa., and Egremont, Mass.; donated by Balken to the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Mass.; in 1944, purchased from the Berkshire Museum by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; in 1948, partially-sold, partially-traded to Colonial Williamsburg by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (See the object file for the terms of the transaction).