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Portrait of Anne Williamson (Anne McClelland McCauley Walke Williamson)

1811-1812
Origin: America, Virginia, Norfolk
Overall: 34 1/2 x 29 3/4in.
Oil on canvas
Partial Gift, Lex and Sarah Reeves in Honor of the Retirement of Barbara Luck and Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 2013-98,A&B
A half-length portrait of a young woman, seated, her chair and body turned slightly more than 90 degrees toward the viewer's right. (Part of her far arm, her back, and the back of the chair are displayed). Her head is turned so that it is only about 45 degrees from full front. She has dark brown eyes and hair, the latter parted in the middle and twisted into an elaborate knot at the back of her head with curled tendrils framing her face. She wears a white, very high-waisted dress, the bodice consisting of sheer lace. Extending beyond short, puffed, solid sleeves, sheer dotted white fabric forms long sleeves. The dress's waist is defined by a white shiny (est. satin) ribbon. Par of the back of her brown chair is visible; it has ears and decoratively turned spindles; it is partly hidden by a pink drape or shawl that hangs over the back of the chair and is drawn forward over the sitter's proper right arm. Her hands are not shown. The background is a mottled grayish-brown, presumably a loose definition of clouds.
Label:Yes, these are the same subject by the same artist, Cephas Thompson. Today we think nothing of printing multiple photographic portraits, but we don’t expect to find original portraits that look so alike unless one is a copy or even a forgery. That is not the case here. The Williamsons commissioned at least five portraits of themselves from Thompson, most likely as gifts for family members. The couple had at least eight children together and three from Thomas’ first marriage.

A banker and local politician, Thomas Williamson considered himself a patron of the arts. In addition to Thompson, the Williamsons patronized other American artists, including William James Hubard (whose portrait of Lafayette is also on view in this exhibition) and William Dunlap, the noted artist-diarist who described in an 1819 visit to the couple seeing multiple landscapes, copies, and “some dozen” portraits by Thompson.

A register of the artist’s Norfolk subjects, presumably written in the order that they were painted, lists the canvas of “Mrs. Williamson” before the smaller panel picture. The dramatic artist changes in the subject’s drape and the contour lines of her figure, seen only in the canvas under a microscope, also suggest the larger format was the earlier likeness.