COLLECTION: Paintings

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Unidentified Woman

ca. 1835
Origin: America, New York State or Ohio (probably)
Unframed: 27 1/2 x 23 3/4in. (69.9 x 60.3cm) and Framed: 33 1/8 x 29 1/4 x 2 1/2in.
Oil on twill-weave canvas
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1993.100.2
A half-length portrait of a seated woman, who faces the viewer nearly head on. Her arms are crossed in front of her at the wrists, her hands visible and appearing to rest in her lap. She wears a black dress with large, puffed (leg-o-mutton) sleeves. She wears either a collared, self-shawl or -cape OR, perhaps more likely, a sheer white pelerine over her dress. She wears a white bonnet with a double ruffle around the face and sheer, striped streamers that hang loosely down to either side of her chest. She wears a gold-colored ring on the index finger of her proper left hand, a single strand of gold beads around her neck, and a brooch that either fastens her pointed collar or a garment beneath her dress; the brooch is gold-colored and regularly dotted with black spots (presumably representing inset jet stones). She has a prominent mole just above her upper lip, brown eyes, and very dark brown hair. She sits in a stick-back, rosewood-grained side chair set off with gold pin-striping and gold floral designs, the latter set within the circular ends of the shaped crest. She hold a brown, leather-covered book in her proper left hand. The background is an overall warm brown.

The 3-inch white pine cyma recta frame was stripped prior to acquisition; it appears to be a period replacement.
Label:Seated women often posed with their arms demurely crossed at the wrists, their hands resting in their laps. Here, however, much of the painting's decorative quality stems from the hands' placement, their contrast with the sitter's black dress, and the claw-like shaping of the fingers of the right hand. The chiseled appearance of the woman's facial planes and the crisp delineation of her cap ruffles reveal the artist's heavy dependence on line.

The woman's painted comb-back Windsor chair provides other visually arresting notes. The loose, horizontal striping of the comb was a fashionable simulation of the grain of costly rosewood, while gold floral motifs and pin-striping, particularly the outlining of the scroll ends of the comb, enhance the composition's liveliness.

Idiosyncratically, the painter placed his figure off center and below eye level. (Notice how she appears to look upward.) More intriguingly and ambiguously, one of the woman's eyes focuses on the viewer, the other wanders off to the right, and in a suggestion of wryness, one corner of her mouth turns up, the other down.




Provenance:The early history is undocumented. John Call (d. about 1987) of Relay, Md.; sold to Hugh Weaver of Williamsburg, Va., who was AARFAM's source.