This portrait of Elizabeth Parke Custis, the eldest granddaughter of Martha Washington, was likely made by Sarah Peale, the renowned portrait painter and daughter of James Peale, in 1836. It is a copy of Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 portrait of Miss Custis, made shortly before her marriage to Englishman Thomas Law. In 1796, Stuart was painting his “Atheneum-style” portrait of George Washington, and Elizabeth often watched his work. According to family tradition, he captured her likeness as she returned from a walk and observed the artist at work. The sitter’s spirit, and the apparent spontaneity of the pose, pervade both Stuart’s portrait (now owned by another descendant) and this faithful rendition of it. Elizabeth’s crossed-arm stance is unusual for a female figure by Stuart, who otherwise used it for male portraits, and it suggests her widely-documented willful personality.
Half-length portrait of Elizabeth Parke Custis Law, turned three-quarters to the proper left and gazing to the front, lit from the proper right. Her arms are folded across her body, and she holds a straw hat with a scarlet ribbon at her proper left side. She wears a simple olive-green dress with a white netted shawl loosely tied over her neckline. Her dark brown hair with highlights of gold and auburn is worn loose and it falls over her forehead at proper right. Her eyes are large and a deep brown color, and her cheeks are rosy pink. She is framed by trees in a landscape background: a large brown trunk at proper right, and two crossed birch trees with blue sky and clouds behind them at proper left. Along the proper left edge, the landscape continues into the distance, showing water and more trees.
Oil on canvas, gilded wood
Overall (H x W x D, framed): 34 in. x 28 1/2 in. x 2 1/4 in. (86.36 cm x 72.39 cm x 5.72 cm)
Other (H x W x D, sight): 28 1/2 in. × 24 1/8 in. × 1 1/2 in. (72.39 cm × 61.28 cm × 3.81 cm)
Purchased with funds donated by Melody Sawyer Richardson, Vice Regent for Ohio, 2008
Mount Vernon's object research is ongoing and information about this object is subject to change. For information on image use and reproductions, click here