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Portrait of The Thames Children: Possibly Susan Euphemia Thames (1850-1858), John McCollum Thames (1858-1859), and Ringgold Thames (1852-1858)

Possibly 1859
Origin: America, Alabama
Unframed: 63 x 50in. (160 x 127cm) and Framed: 70 3/4 x 59 1/2in. (179.7 x 151.1cm)
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mrs. Frances Patterson Ballou in memory of Travis Butler Thames
Acc. No. 1967.100.2
A full-length oil portrait of three children in an interior. A section of red (seemingly brocaded) drapery fills the upper half of the left edge of the painting. The drapery has a leaf and floral border on it. The floor is covered with an elaborate carpet woven in a dense floral design in reds, greens, and golds over a beige background . The corner of a framed painting hanging on the wall is barely visible in the upper right corner.
The oldest child is a female standing to the viewer's left. She wears an off-the-shoulder royal blue dress with black braid trimmings on the sleeves and down the front of the skirt in two rows; her bell sleeves reach to her elbows. Beneath her dress she wears white eyelet lace pantelets, white stockings, and ankle high black boots. Around her neck is a necklace made up of two strands of coral beads with a black and gold pendant hanging from it. A gold bracelet encircles her proper right arm, and there are two rings on the fingers of her proper right hand. Dangling from this hand on a chain is a small brown purse embossed with a tiny floral decoration. Her face is solemn and serious with grey shadows. Her brown hair is parted in the center and dressed in ringlets just touching her shoulders. Her proper left hand is behind the back of a baby seated upright on the corner of a tall spindly- legged table.
The baby also wears a necklace made up of two strands of coral beads. His/her white, off-the-shoulder dress is hitched up above chubby legs and bare feet. The sleeves of the dress are tied with pink ribbons. Coral bracelets encircle both wrists. The baby holds a rattle in one hand and the end of a string toy in the other. This child has an over-sized head with short blond hair and a solemn face and sits on one corner of a carved table.
Next to the baby stands a boy dressed in long white pants and a short, dark green coat with red braid trimmings. Underneath the coat is a white shirt with a round collar edged in ruffles and with ruffles down the shirtfront. He stares straight at the viewer with a solemn face. His hair is brown and parted on the left side. He is holding the end of the string toy that is also grasped by the baby. Just behind the boy is an elaborately carved armchair with a seat and back upholstered with red floral brocade.

Artist unidentified.
Label:The identities of the subjects of this triple portrait remain speculative, even though the painting was donated to Colonial Williamsburg by a family descendant. Based on genealogical data found to date, the likeliest possibility is that these three Thames family children were all rendered posthumously (at least two, if not all three, from photographs) and that they are identifiable as indicated in the tentative title line. Such a scenario might explain why the portrait was handed down through the family of one of the children's siblings, Travis B. Thames (1854-1914), who is not shown. In all, ten children were born to cotton broker Cornelius Ellis Thames (1826-1883) and his wife, Mary Elizabeth McCollum Thames (1825-1902), of Claiborne and Selma, Alabama. The couple also adopted one of their nieces.
Regardless of the subjects' identities, the large, lavish composition provides excellent documentation of the prevalent Victorian taste for busy patterns, deep colors, and rich textures. The artist is known for a substantial, stylistically cohesive body of work that includes several portraits of children as ambitiously conceived and exquisitiely detailed as this one. Circumstantial evidence suggests this painter was Adrian P. Thompson (ca. 1801-?), a North Carolina or New York State native who appeared in Alabama about 1845 and disappeared from census records after 1860, at which time he was reported as living in a Selma boardinghouse.

Provenance:At the time of acquisition, AARFAM's donor, Mrs. Frances Patterson Ballou, identified herself as a granddaughter of Travis Butler Thames, a sibling of the three children depicted. However, the exact line of descent has not been documented.