This profile portrait of Martha Washington was inspired by an original pastel by James Sharples, the renowned British pastellist, for whom the President sat at least once. This work and its pendant, of George Washington, were probably produced in the late 19th century, most likely using Sharples copies now owned by the Bristol Art Gallery as a source. Perhaps reflecting later tastes, the artist who produced the oils simplified the Sharples backgrounds, darkened their palette, and enlarged the images.
Bust-length, profile portrait of Martha Washington, facing proper left, with shoulders very slightly turned proper right. The portrait is lit from the proper left. Mrs. Washington is shown with blue eyes, fair skin, and cheeks and lips in rose tones. She is attired in a black silk dress, its neckline covered by a large gray-white neckerchief or fichu. Her gray hair is just visible at the forehead under a white day cap with a high crown, blue-and-white striped satin ribbon trim, and two layers of ruffles.
The background is plain and dark, in shades of deep brown, with an area of red at the proper right edge from the top corner to the level of her neck.
When it entered the collection, the portrait was housed in a complex late-19th century frame, consisting of two gilt wood moldings separated by a red velvet liner and surmounted by a spread-winged eagle. It has since been reframed in a new gilt wood frame, in period style.
Oil on canvas
Overall (Framed: H x W): 30 in. x 25 in. (76.2 cm x 63.5 cm)
Purchased by the Connoisseur Society of Mount Vernon, 2014
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