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Portrait of Ellin North Moale (Mrs. John Moale)(1740-1825) and Her Granddaughter, Ellin North Moale (1794-1803)

1798-1800
Origin: America, Maryland, Baltimore
Unframed: 40 1/2" x 35 3/8" and Framed: 46 1/8" x 42"
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Robert S. Wilson
Acc. No. 1987.100.1
A double portrait of an older, slightly plump woman who is seated next to a standing girl, the two shown nearly full-length (but excluding their feet). The woman sits in a green-upholstered, brass-tacked, rounded-back side chair and occupies the center of the composition. She is shown nearly full-front to the viewer with her head turned very slightly towards the viewer's left, her brown eyes on the viewer. She wears a reddish-gold-colored gown having elbow-length sleeves and a low-cut neckline filled with a white kerchief. The gown's waistline sports a short peplum-like ruffle. Double white lace or embroidered ruffles project from beneath her dress sleeves. A black net kerchief is drawn around her torso with a black bow over it at the bodice. She also wears a large white, white-beribboned, gauze-ruffled cap over her curled gray hair. With her proper right hand, she holds a red-covered book in her lap, a finger apparently stuck among the pages. Her proper left hand hangs down along her side.

The young girl stands to the viewer's left of the woman, her proper right hand touching the woman's sleeve ruffles; with her proper left hand, she clutches a small bouquet of flowers to her bosom. A pink string or thread is twined around each of her index fingers, and she holds the cord tightly stretched between her two hands. She wears a white, high-waisted dress having a square-cut, ruffled neckline, and each short sleeve is gathered into two puffs with a ruffle at the bottom. Her shoulder-length, reddish-blonde hair is cut with bangs. She has blue eyes.

A table to the viewer's right of the woman is covered with a floor-length white, seemingly sheer cloth having a row of ruffles around the top edge. Atop the covered table rests a pair of eyeglasses having folding side pieces. Above the table, a knotted or twisted red drapery forms a diagonal through the upper right corner of the composition. The rest of the background is a very dark gray-brown, only slightly graded in tonality.

The unusual 2-3/4-inch gilded frame incorporates a flat liner, a quarter-round outermost molding, and a continuous line of alternating ruffled and smooth plaster ornament within a scoop molding. There are large, gilded, plaster leaves at each corner, each of them enclosing three smaller, smoother leaves. The frame appears to be of the period if not original to the painting.
Label:Joshua Johnson was a free man "of colour," as period documents cite. He readily noted that he had "experienced many insuperable obstacles in the pursuit of his studies," though history records no details regarding his struggle to surmount the racial barriers of his day in order to learn the art of portrait painting.

Johnson's likeness of Ellin North Moale (1741-1825) and her namesake-granddaughter (1794-1803) offers tantalizing clues as to how Baltimore society regarded the artist. Mrs. Moale was wealthy and prominent. More unusually, she patronized multiple portraitists. As a younger woman, she was painted by John Wollaston, Jr., and John Hesselius and, in later years, by Rembrandt Peale and C. A. Muller. Why she added Johnson to her list of portrayers can only be guessed. Peale may have recommended Johnson, but almost certainly Mrs. Moale knew the artist personally, for Johnson's successive addresses include two close to her own.
Provenance:From Ellin North Moale, the elder portrait subject, to her son, Thomas Moale (1766-1853); to his daughter, Mrs. William Lynch Owings (nee Sophia North Moale); to her daughter, Alice Owings; to her niece, Mrs. Lewis P. Heiston (Alice Owings); to her cousin, Roswell P. Russell; to Roszel Thomsen, Baltimore, Md.; to the Washburn Gallery, New York, NY, which was CWF's source.