SPECIAL ADVISORY: The Yale University Art Gallery is open to the public on Friday evenings, Saturdays, and Sundays and offers access to Yale ID holders on weekdays. Advance reservations are required for public hours.Plan Your Visit

American Paintings and Sculpture
Artist: The Beardsley Limner, American, active ca. 1785–ca.1800

Elizabeth Davis Beardsley (1749–1790)

ca. 1788–90

Oil on canvas

45 5/16 × 43 3/16 in. (115.1 × 109.7 cm)
Gift of Gwendolen Jones Giddings
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.
Made in New Haven, Connecticut, United States
On view
18th century

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


Robin Jaffee Frank, Love and Loss (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000), 23,25,26-7,29, fig. 15.

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.

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.