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Elderly Lady in White Cap

ca. 1835
Origin: America, Mid-Atlantic or New England
Unframed: 33 1/2 x 27 3/4in. (85.1 x 70.5cm) and Framed: 37 1/4 x 31 1/2 x 2in.
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1964.100.5
A half-length portrait of an elderly woman, seated and turned 1/4 to the viewer's right. She wears a black dress; black, paisley-bordered shawl; white black-ribboned cap; and white kerchief. She appears to have lost some of her teeth, her mouth turned abruptly down. She holds a book in her proper R hand. The background is black.
Tje 2 18-inch frame is a modern replacement, being painted black with a red liner.
Label:Phillips frequently used a forward leaning pose in women's portraits of the Kent Period, 1829-1838, but some of his variations were more successful than others. Poses that combined the torso's forward inclination with an arm resting on a table or sofa to help distribute upper body weight seem more logical---and certainly more graceful----than those that cross the sitter's hands at the waist, resulting in a tight, pinched look. Phillips probably employed the latter posture more frequently in his portraits of elderly women because he deemed it more appropriate to their age and status in society. In this instance, the title of the book the sitter holds and the mourning ribbon on her bonnet emphasize the suitability of Phillips's conservative choice of pose.
The tonal simplification that Phillips used with dramatic effect in his Kent Period portraits was probably least suited to the complex faces of the elderly, such as this woman, because their deep wrinkles were rendered artificial by hasty surface treatment. Reduced to lines painted on the skin, these marks of time and age lost their essential role in character definition.
Provenance:An unidentified Connecticut dealer; The Old Print Shop, New York, NY.
Inscription(s):Painted on the book spine in the sitter's hand is: "RELIGION/OF THE/HEART/AND/LIFE/VOL. V./CONSOLATIONS/FOR THE/AFFLICTED." See "Notes."