American Paintings and Sculpture
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext2 of 2
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
Artist: Joseph Wood, American, 1778–1830

Captain Alfred Grayson, USMC (1784/86–1823)

ca. 1815

Watercolor and graphite on ivory

3 × 2 9/16 in. (7.6 × 6.5 cm)
John Hill Morgan, B.A. 1893, LL.B. 1896, M.A. (Hon.) 1929, Fund

The portrait of Captain Alfred Grayson exemplifies the captivating style of Joseph Wood, a painter of miniatures as well as cabinet-sized portraits. During the War of 1812, Captain Alfred Grayson of the U.S. Marine Corps was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, when the British were off the coast. Grayson then moved to Washington, D.C., where he defended the White House. Following the war, this portrait may have been commissioned to celebrate the sitter’s marriage to Elizabeth Coulter (or Colter) of Baltimore in May 1816. Grayson commanded the first detachment of marines to the naval station at Key West, Florida, in 1823. That same year, during a return voyage from Key West aboard the ship Decoy, he died of yellow fever.

Characteristic of Joseph Wood’s individual style is the off-center placement of the sitter low on the ivory, the sharp delineation of features, the windswept hair, and the liberal use of gum-arabic to give clear definition to the clothing. The reverse of the miniature features an inset compartment containing brown hair, most likely belonging to the sitter. The inscription’s inexact dating, “painted about 1810–1820,” suggests that it was written not at the time of the creation of the miniature, but later.

Born the son of a farmer in Clarkstown, New York, Joseph Wood moved to New York City at age fifteen and apprenticed to a silversmith. He taught himself to paint by copying portrait miniatures brought to the shop for framing. From 1803 to 1809, he worked in a highly successful partnership with John Wesley Jarvis. Both artists befriended miniaturist Edward Greene Malbone. The airy luminosity of Captain Grayson reveals Malbone’s influence. Wood moved to Philadelphia in 1813, and later worked in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. President James Madison, Eli Whitney, Governor DeWitt Clinton, and Francis Scott Key were among his illustrious sitters. Despite his lucrative career, Wood spent his final days in poverty. His notoriously decadent life was the stimulus for a temperance tract published in 1834.

Made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Not on view
19th century
Miniatures - Jewelry

Harry Schaten, Queens, New York; Elle Shushan


“Acquisitions,” (accessed 2012).

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.