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Take A Look At Folk Art Masterpiece(s) in We The People

Last January, when the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Colonial Williamsburg announced that it would “launch its diamond jubilee as the loan exhibition at the Winter Antiques Show to be held at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City,” I was interested in doing something that would focus more attention on folk art. I studied the little booklet that I was sent, with a number of items in the museum’s collection, and decided to pitch a Masterpiece to the Wall Street Journal. That, as my regular readers know, is the Saturday column that provides an anatomy of an artwork (music, poetry, film, literature as well as visual art). These pieces are wonderful to do–providing an opportunity for research as well as close viewing.

As it turned out, none of the items in the brochure ended up being my Masterpiece subject. Instead, my editor and I settled on a portrait that was new to the collection and that was to be revealed to the public in a long-term exhibition titled We the People: American Folk Portraits, which opened last summer and continues through 2019.

It is John James Trumbull Arnold’s Portrait of Mary Mattingly (1850). She is, as many people have told me since Saturday, after reading my piece, just adorably cute and well as beautifully executed.

As I wrote,

Mary, age 3 (or possibly 4), is a beguiling little girl with penetrating brown, almond-shaped eyes….limned in Arnold’s trademark sharp, simple lines. Presented frontally, encircled by a brownish oval background set against black corners, she stares directly at the viewer, holding a red rose in her left hand….

She has, in Arnold’s rendition, symmetrically arched eyebrows and fine, visible eyelashes. She wears a dress, gathered around her tiny waist, that looks black but was initially dark green. It’s trimmed at the neck in white lace, and her sleeves, gathered at the wrist, are trimmed in dark lace….[Her hair is] tied with an unusually large, cockeyed white-and-blue bow that gives her a bit of a mischievous character.

Much more from me is at the link above.

I’ve posted her picture here, but if you want a closer look at the portrait, please go here. That Live Auctioneers site gives a history of the 2014 auction at which she was purchased by the museum.

Also, Antiques and the Arts Weekly published an article  (the press release, I think) about the exhibition We the People last May. It has a slide show of other portraits in the show.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Museums



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