A brilliant Englishman well-known for his reforms while serving as a government official in India, Thomas Law came to the United States seeking a fresh start amid the political and social freedom of the new republic. This miniature depicts him much as he must have appeared when he first met the beautiful and spirited Eliza Parke Custis, eldest granddaughter of Martha Washington. The couple married in 1796 and had a daughter, but they separated in 1804 and divorced in 1811. Though unsigned, the miniature is likely by Robert Field, who painted other portraits of Washington family members in 1801, including Martha Washington. The reverse bears a woven plat of Law’s hair.
Oval, bust-length portrait miniature of Thomas Law, three-quarters turned to the proper left and gazing to the proper right at the viewer. He wears a black frock coat with a turn-down collar, a black waistcoat with a high collar, a peach-colored under waistcoat--with accents in a pinker shade and lines suggesting folds--and a white stock and shirt ruffle. Law’s face is pale, with warmer tones at his cheeks and shadow or stubble shown around the jaw. His eyes are blue, and his powdered hair—in a range of brown, gray and off-white tones— is worn ‘en queue’ with a narrow black hair ribbon tied at the nape of his neck. The miniature is lit from the proper right, and the hatched brown background becomes lightest around the face.
The burnished copper alloy bezel case has a fixed loop holding a ring at top; the reverse has a reserve bezel that holds a woven plat of brown hair supported on a thin sheet of lead. Two ovals of laid paper, one of which was cut from a playing card, were used as filling within the case.