This striking miniature by acclaimed portrait miniaturist Robert Field depicts the prominent Philadelphia physician Dr. John Redman Coxe, whose daughter Esther Maria Coxe married Martha Washington’s grandson, Lorenzo Lewis, in 1827.
Dr. Coxe studied medicine in London and Edinburgh, as well as with Dr. Benjamin Rush at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his degree in 1794. After further study abroad, Coxe began to practice medicine in Philadelphia in 1796. He was a professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania from 1809 to 1819, then becoming chair of the materia medica and pharmacy in the medical department of the University. Coxe was an early proponent of vaccination who injected himself and his son in 1801, the year this portrait was painted. The miniature conforms to early cataloguer Harry Piers’ description of Fields portraits: “The head is carried in a grand, dignified manner, so that we are struck by the refined, aristocratic air of the sitter.” It is notable that Mount Vernon holds three other miniatures from the same year, 1801.
Field was active in the Washington, D.C. area in 1801, when he also executed a commission of 8 memorial miniatures of George Washington for his grieving wife, Martha Washington.
This miniature was given to Mount Vernon together with other important miniatures, documents and artifacts, by descendants of the Coxe-Lewis family.
Oval, bust-length portrait in polychrome watercolors of the physician Dr. John Redman Coxe, whose daughter Esther married Nelly Custis’s son Lorenzo Lewis. The miniature, by renowned miniaturist Robert Field, is signed RF 1801 at the proper right.
Coxe is presented three-quarters turned to the proper right, while his eyes are shown gazing in the opposite direction, to the proper left. The subject wears a black coat with cloth-covered buttons and prominent striations, particularly around the lapels and the lower center. The back collar and proper left shoulder have been enhanced with white, perhaps to suggest the richness of the cloth. In addition to his finely painted white stock and ruffled jabot, Dr. Coxe wears a red ribbon around his neck. We can thus imagine that he himself is wearing a miniature, or perhaps a medallion. Dr. Coxe has been shown with a handsome and dignified face. His vivid blue eyes are prominent, but his coloring is pale. As is typical of Field’s portraiture, his lips are only very subtly differentiated from the rest of the face. He has noticeably long sideburns visible on both sides of his face, and his powdered hair is worn ‘en queue’ and tied with a black ribbon.
The hatched brown background, typical of Field’s work, is adeptly lightened near to the proper right edge of the face, warmly illuminating the sitter and suggesting a lighting source from that side. It then progressively darkens, suggesting cast shadow, to the proper left.
The miniature is encased in a gilded copper locket case surrounded by 94 pearls. The back cover has a ring of cobalt glass with an embossed copper foil liner and an inset empty hair compartment surrounded by 51 pearls and lined with card-backed fabric.
The ivory’s backing board is inscribed with pencil: “made by / Aa[ron] Sy [as]/ Alexandria/December 1801”.
Watercolor on ivory; wood, gilded metal, glass
Overall (Including case): 3 5/8 in. × 2 5/8 in. × 1/2 in. (9.21 cm × 6.67 cm × 1.27 cm)
Other (Only miniature): 2 13/16 in. × 2 1/4 in. (7.14 cm × 5.72 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Lyttleton B. P. Gould, Jr., M. Chapin Krech, Dr. Shepard Krech, Alvin W. Krech, Peter Chapin, Charles Chapin, and Mrs. Charles Merrill Chapin, III, in memory of Esther Maria Lewis Chapin, 1986
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