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American Paintings and Sculpture
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext2 of 2
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
Artist, attributed to: Mary Way, American, 1769–1833
Artist, attributed to: Betsey Way Champlain, American, 1771–1825

Child of the Briggs Family

ca. 1820

Watercolor on ivory

1 1/2 × 1 3/16 in. (3.8 × 3 cm)
From a gift of Mildred S. Prince

Mary Way, a native of New London, Connecticut, distinguished herself as one of the earliest professional, female miniaturists in America. She presumably received her education at an academy for women in Connecticut, where she would have learned painting and needlework. Beginning in the 1790s, Way made her first miniatures of family and friends, some in watercolor on paper and others in the “dressed” style—a collaged form of portrait. At age forty-two, she moved to New York to pursue her work in miniatures. When blindness ended Way’s artistic career, forcing her to move back to New London in 1820, the American Academy of the Fine Arts held a benefit exhibition for her.

This portrait of a young child of Elizabeth and Charles Briggs is one of a group of trio miniatures of the New London family. It may be a wearable mourning miniature made to commemorate the child’s early death. The child is depicted in an off-the-shoulder dress, which came into vogue for children of both sexes around 1820. The minimal clothing relates to two philosophies then current in childrearing: to adapt children to the cold, thereby increasing their physical stamina, and to offer children freedom of movement during play. Such chemises sometimes appear in posthumous portraits to emphasize the tender age and innocence of the departed. In this miniature, the chemise, the exacting profile likeness, and the lock of blond hair set into the locket’s reverse suggest that the child depicted may have been taken from his or her parents too soon. A companion portrait of the child’s mother wearing a black neck ruff indicates that she is in mourning (1969.37.2).

Made in United States
Not on view
19th century
Miniatures - Jewelry
Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.