View Larger


James Sharples' charming likeness of a teenage Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis supports the many contemporary descriptions of her which praise her beauty as well as her intelligence, wit, and artistic and musical talents. Here she is portrayed with wind-blown hair and a landscape background as if she were outdoors in a garden. Martha Washington gave this portrait of her granddaughter to a friend, Mary Lear, the mother of Tobias Lear, Washington’s secretary. Mrs. Washington and Mrs. Lear developed a closeness that certainly deepened when Frances (Fanny) Bassett, Martha Washington's niece, married Tobias Lear in 1795, and Mrs. Lear came to know Nelly Custis during extended visits to Philadelphia in the 1790s.


Bust-length rectangular profile portrait of Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis, facing proper right with shoulders slightly turned to the proper left. She is shown with brown eyes, very dark eyebrows and lashes, an aquiline nose, and a pale complexion but pink cheeks and coral lips. Her wavy auburn hair is worn long and loose, with tendrils cascading across her neckline and down her dress. She wears a white dress with a draped neckline and a pale blue sash. A lighter blue—nearly white—sheer head scarf flutters forward over her head.

The background is a landscape, with dark brown trees to the proper right of the sitter, and a range of blue tones from pale to deeper, royal, blue particularly evident at proper left. Pale yellow and dark brown to black accents appear, particularly at proper left.


c. 1796




Pastel on laid paper


Overall: 9 1/4 in. x 7 1/2 in. (23.5 cm x 19.05 cm)
Other (frame): 11 1/16 in. x 9 1/8 in. (28.1 cm x 23.18 cm)

Credit Line

Purchase, 1974

Object Number


Colors (Beta)

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.
Buy Tickets What to See Calendar Shop Restaurant Donate Membership
Estate Hours

Open today from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

iconDirections & Parking
buy tickets online & save