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American Paintings and Sculpture
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Artist: P.R. Vallée, French, active United States, 1803–1815
Subject: Harriet Mackie, American, 1788–1804

Harriet Mackie (The Dead Bride) (1788–1804)

1804

Watercolor and graphite pencil on ivory

2 7/16 × 1 15/16 in. (6.2 × 4.9 cm) framed (H): 3 3/16 × 2 3/16 in.(8.1 × 5.56 cm)
Mabel Brady Garvan Collection
1936.300

Seventeen-year-old Harriet Mackie died shortly before she was to marry William Rose in Charleston, South Carolina. The miniaturist P. R. Vallée portrayed Harriet as he would have seen her lifeless body, laid in bed and dressed in her bridal gown, during a visitation for mourners. Locally, rumors circulated that Harriet had been poisoned. A motive for murder can be found in the will of Harriet’s father, who stipulated that his daughter, upon marriage, would become the heir to his vast rice plantation; should she die before then, the owners of a competing plantation would inherit the estate. Fifty years later, Harriet’s sudden death inspired Susan Petigru King’s novel Lily. The description of Lily as a dead bride, narrated through the eyes of her fiancé, distinctly echoes Vallée’s visual depiction in the miniature.

Plaited on this locket’s reverse, Harriet’s hair symbolically binds the dead to the living. The locks transcend mortality by preserving a portion of her beloved body for her bereft fiancé. John Blake White, a friend of the Mackie family, wrote in his journal about the loss that Harriet’s fiancé must have suffered: “What appears to mark this sad circumstance … is her having been engaged to be married within the space of two weeks to Mr. Wm. Rose, … who, by this sad stroke, is rendered indeed wretched.” Some years later, White added, “Poor Rose died … dejected and broken hearted.”

Little is known about Vallée, one of many Continental artists working in the antebellum South. Newspaper advertisements reveal that between 1803 and 1806 an artist by his name worked in Charleston, South Carolina, and Vallée’s technical virtuosity reveals that he was already a mature miniaturist at that time. His local announcement read as follows: “Mr. P. Vallée, Miniature Painter, lately arrived from Paris, offers his services to the Ladies and Gentlemen of this City, in the line of his profession; he warrants the most correct likeness.” By 1810 Vallée advertised in the Louisiana Courier of New Orleans. While living there, Vallée painted a miniature of Andrew Jackson.

Status: 
Not on view
Culture: 
American
Period: 
19th century
Classification: 
Miniatures - Jewelry
Provenance: 

Mrs. Reid Whitford, Charleston, by 1921; Edmund Bury, Philadelphia, by May 1936; Yale University Art Gallery, by purchase

Bibliography: 

Theodore E. Stebbins Jr. and Galina Gorokhoff, A Checklist of American Paintings at Yale University (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1982), 158, no. 1639M, ill.

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.