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The Hansbury Sisters

ca 1840
Origin: America, Possibly Pennsylvania
Unframed: 47 3/4 x 65 1/2in. (121.3 x 166.4cm) and Framed: 56 5/16 x 74 1/8in.
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1957.100.8
A portrait of three young girls shown full-length in an interior. The smallest child wears black shoes, white stockings, and a short-sleeved gold-colored dress and holds a striped candy cane in her proper left hand. She has blue eyes and chin-length, center-parted, blonde hair. She stands in the middle of the horizontal format composition, between the two larger girls, who are both seated on sarcophagus-shaped, square, upholstered, matching stools; a tassel dangles from the visible rear corner of each stool. Each of the two larger girls rests a hand on the arm or shoulder of the center child, connecting the three figures.

The girl to the viewer's right wears black shoes, white stockings, white pantaloons, and a blue dress having elbow-length sleeves. She has blue eyes and shoulder-length, center-parted, reddish-brown hair and holds a rose bloom in her proper left hand.

The girl to the viewer's left, the tallest of the three children, wears black and blue button-top shoes, white pantaloons, and a long-sleeved red dress. She has blue eyes and dark brown, center-parted, hair that waves close to her face in front of her ear and hangs in braided loops at the back. In her lap in her proper right hand, she holds an open book displaying mock writing. A voluminous, dark, red-highlighted drape runs across the top of the composition and hangs down on the (viewer's) left, forming a diagonal behind the largest girl. A putty-colored pilaster occupies the space at far right, behind the blue-dressed girl. A horizontal line at the back separates back wall from floor, the latter being either painted or covered with a carpet displaying serpentine lines in red and brown on a green ground.

Artist unidentified.

The 5-inch molded and gilded frame is possibly original.
Label:This unusually large group portrait depicts three sisters. It appears that the two older girls are trying to restrain the restless child in the middle. Perhaps the youngest was tired of posing. Note that she is holding a peppermint stick while the other two hold more conventional props – a book and a flower. The girls dominate the picture with little else included to distract the viewer. The patterned carpet, swagged drapery, and simple column suggest a fashionable but probably fictitious Victorian interior. The ornate grain-painted stools may be studio props since an identical stool appears in another painting by the artist.

A dealer acquired this portrait from the granddaughter of one of the subjects in the 1930s. Nevertheless, little is known about the sitters or the artist beyond the girls’ last name and a probable location of Philadelphia.

Provenance:Found in Philadelphia and purchased from the (now, unidentified) granddaughter of one of the sitters (n. 1); sold to Edith Gregor Halpert, Downtown Gallery, New York, NY; Holger Cahill, New York, NY; M. Knoedler and Co., New York, NY.