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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: Edward Greene Malbone, American, 1777–1807
Subject: George Watson, American, 1718–1800

Major George Watson


Watercolor on ivory

2 7/8 × 2 1/4 in. (7.3 × 5.7 cm)
Mabel Brady Garvan Fund

It was a daughter’s love for her father that inspired the creation of this miniature. Mary Watson Hutchinson received the miniature from her sister, after Mary had moved away from the Watson family in Massachusetts to join her husband in England. In April 1797, she wrote to her sister to thank her for this newly painted portrait of their father. “The sight of my dear Parent’s picture was indeed very affecting to me… . I cannot contemplate it without sensible emotion. It is quite a trial to me to part with it long enough to have it sette [sic].”

Aware of the intense emotional value of such objects, Mary also owned a pendant miniature portrait of her mother, Elizabeth Watson, and commissioned a pair of small portraits of herself and her husband to pass on to her children. The style and technique of this portrait are typical of Edward Greene Malbone’s work, characterized by paint laid down in thin veils of color to create a sense of light playing across the sitter’s facial features. Archival evidence also points to Malbone as the artist; in a 1797 letter discussing this miniature portrait, Mary refers to “Mr. Russell” as having arranged for the commission, and Malbone was painting a number of portraits for the Russell family in 1796 and 1797.

Primarily self-taught, Malbone’s talent, charm, and artistic skill contributed to his rapid success as an itinerant artist. In 1801, he traveled to London, where he was influenced by the airy and elegant style of miniaturist Richard Cosway. Later that year he returned to Charleston, South Carolina, and began his most prolific period, traveling between Newport, Rhode Island; Boston; Providence, Rhode Island; New York; Philadelphia; and Charleston. Malbone died of tuberculosis in May 1807 at the age of twenty-nine, cutting short a brilliant career.

Made in United States
Not on view
19th century
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.