This charming miniature of Elizabeth Parke Custis, the eldest granddaughter of Martha Washington, was painted in 1814 by renowned artist James Peale. By 1814, the sitter had been separated for ten years and divorced for three years from her husband Thomas Law, whom she had married in 1795. We know from her letters of 1814 that she was having her portrait painted in miniature for the Chevalier de Greffe, a French military officer to whom she was apparently engaged. The two never married, as de Greffe returned home to France to recover his property and was never heard from again. Mount Vernon’s collection also includes an important James Peale miniature of Martha Washington, which is believed to have been made for Elizabeth Parke Custis’ sister, Eleanor.
An oval portrait bust-length portrait of Elizabeth Parke Custis. She is facing nearly front, and her brown eyes gaze out toward the viewer. The sitter wears a pale blue Empire-style gown decorated with white bands of what appear to be lace in the bodice and on the upper edges of the sleeves, and a high white lace collar. She wears pendant earrings and her dark brown hair is arranged in tight curls on top of her head. Her neck is painted in an alabaster tone that is close to the white of the lace, but her lips, cheeks, and chin are warmed with pale pink pigments.
The background is hatched overall in varying pigments of warm brown.
The miniature was framed in a wooden (or papier-mache?) frame, painted black, with a brass hanging ring and decorative floral mount. It is presently separated from its framing elements. A torn and fragmentary label identifying the portrait is mounted on the reverse of the frame.
Watercolor on ivory; wood or papier-mÃ¢chÃ© with metal alloy, goldbeaterâ€™s skin(?) glass, paper.
Overall: 4 11/16 in. x 4 in. (11.91 cm x 10.16 cm)
Gift of Mr. Martin Lalor Crimmins, III, in memory of Bay Bellinger Crimmins, 1992
Incised or scratched at proper right, in the background to the proper right of the sitterâ€™s shoulder:
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