COLLECTION: Drawings

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Portrait of a Boy

1840-1845 (probably)
Origin: America, Virginia (possibly)
Primary Support: 9 7/8 x 8in. (25.1 x 20.3cm) and Framed: 13 x 11 1/4 x 1 1/4in.
Graphite and ink on wove paper
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 2008.200.1
A half-length grisaille profile portrait of a young boy who appears to be seated, although no chair or other support is depicted. He faces left. His medium toned hair is parted on the near (proper left) side, with curls reaching to ear-length in front and collar-length in back. He wears a long-sleeved plaid shirt with a ruffled collar of the same fabric and light-colored trousers (only the waistband and top of which are shown). He holds a small hoe in his proper right hand; the tool extends into the background of the picture. Behind the boy, a trellis is shown at an angle, ending about mid point in the composition. The oval layout of a garden is visible beyond the trellis, which supports a small tree or shrub. The left half of the composition shows a garden including plants set out in rows in rectangular plots, potted plants, and a wheelbarrow with a spade stuck in the earth beyond it. A fence encloses the garden at the rear. In the far background are low mountains.
The 1 7/8-inch stained wood frame is a modern replacement, supplied by AARFAM's vendor. It has a splayed sight edge and a flat outer edge, with a half-round molding (or bead) at the extremity.
Label:Charles Burton drew and painted landscapes, cityscapes, and individual buildings, but portraiture may have supported him more reliably, judging from the numbers that survive. He favored profile poses, arguing in one of his newspaper advertisements that "the Profile is the usual manner of taking . . . Likeness, and is the most durable resemblance; as a person growing stouter or thinner will not alter the side face as it does the full face . . . ."
Burton rendered profiles in both graphite and watercolor. To date, however, this is the only graphite example found with a fully-developed background; usually, the artist simply filled the space around the sitter's head with hatched lines. Here, extensive gardens, potted plants, a latticework trellis, and gardening tools add a great deal of socio-historical interest to the portrait per se. (Note the wheelbarrow in the middle ground.) The garden plots, trellis, and hoe also allowed Burton to showcase his expertise in perspectival rendering. Yet another indication that Burton expended exceptional care on this likeness is seen in the boy's shirt: its plaid demanded much more effort than a simple solid one. The pudgy, childish contours of the subject's face and his intricately rendered curls add to the overall appeal of the image.
Provenance:Unidentified "proprietor of a local [South Pasadena, Calif.] junktique store"; Tom Field Antiques, South Pasadena, Calif.; Samuel Herrup Antiques, Sheffield, Mas.
Inscription(s):In graphite in upright script in the lower right corner is "C Burton". On the back, on a sheet of wove, buff-colored paper covering the back of the cardboard secondary support, in graphite in script, is "Bean," the meaning of which is undetermined. Also on the same back sheet are various uninterpreted graphite markings, including "2n" and "07."