Elizabeth Davis Beardsley (1749–1790) Artist: The Beardsley Limner (American, active ca. 1785–ca.1800)

ca. 1788–90

American Paintings and Sculpture

On view, 2nd floor, American Art before 1900

In this portrait by an unknown artist and its pair (1952.46.2), a New Haven husband and wife proudly display their material success, but they hold in their hands warnings about the gradual demise of all worldly things. Pediatrician Hezekiah Beardsley rests on his knee Edward Gibbon’s recently published Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which implicitly admonished America’s imperialistic ambitions. Elizabeth reads Meditations and Contemplations by the religious revivalist Reverend James Hervey, who proclaimed that, like the blossoms between Elizabeth’s fingers, "Ye flowery Nations, Ye must all decay." As if the books were portents of their owners’ fate, the Beardsleys died soon after the portraits were completed.


Oil on canvas


45 5/16 × 43 3/16 in. (115.1 × 109.7 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of Gwendolen Jones Giddings

Accession Number



18th 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 records is ongoing.



Mrs. Marshall, Derby, Conn., from about 1790; Elizabeth Marshall Peek, Newtown, Conn.; Elizabeth Peek Fairchild (1822–1915), Newtown, Conn., to 1915; by inheritance to Emma Lathrop Jones (1851–1927), Roxbury, Conn., 1915; Gwendolen Jones Giddings (1914–unknown), West Hartford, Conn., by 1952; given to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 1952
  • Helen A. Cooper et al., Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2008), 4, 18–19, 36–38, no. 8, ill
  • Robin Jaffee Frank, Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000), 23, 25, 26-7, 29, fig. 15
Object copyright
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