This handsome portrait of Englishman Thomas Law was produced in the late 1790s by Gilbert Stuart, the preeminent artist of the period in America. It may have been painted in 1796, the year Thomas Law married Elizabeth (Eliza or Betsy) Parke Custis (1776-1831), the eldest granddaughter of Martha Washington. The Laws soon had a daughter, Eliza Parke Custis Law (1797-1822), but differences in temperament led to their separation. Law returned to England between 1802 and 1804, the couple legally separated in 1804, and divorced in 1811. In this painting, Law is shown in a prominently visible pink "underwaistcoat,’" a garment that had recently come into fashion. Though the circumstances of George Washington’s acquisition of the portrait are unknown, it apparently hung in the Front Parlor at Mount Vernon by 1799.
Vertical, rectangular, bust length portrait of Thomas Law, facing proper right, and gazing at the viewer. He wears what appears to be a black frock coat with a turned down collar; a black waistcoat with a high collar; a salmon colored underwaistcoat; and a white shirt with white neck stock and ruffle. He has been shown with pale skin and pink lips and cheeks. There are several brightly lit spots along the ridge of his brow and near the tip of his nose. His powdered hair—which is shown in a range of brown, gray, and cream tones—is worn in a queue tied with a black ribbon. The background is a dark brown color.
The painting is housed in an American gilt wood scoop frame (A-1423), made by William Adair, 1983.
Oil on twill weave linen
Other (Canvas HxW): 29 in. × 24 in. (73.66 cm × 60.96 cm)
Gift of Katherine Merle-Smith Thomas, 2010
On verso, on stretcher bar, two labels (identical, but torn in different areas). The labels are now removed and housed in the conservation binder for the work.
1.) HIRAM H. HOE- / BOX 333, G.P.O. NEW YORK/ RESTORER OF PAINTINGS / NO. 17831 / FRAME /
2.) – H. HOELZER / -P.O. NEW YORK 1, - / -R OF PAINTINGS /
3.) On verso, at upper left along the top stretcher bar, a label: “4841” (Not viewed due to relining and foamcore at the reverse.)
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