American Paintings and Sculpture
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext2 of 2
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
Artist: William M. S. Doyle, American, 1769–1828

Young Lady in a Sheer White Dress

ca. 1805

Watercolor on ivory

2 3/4 × 2 15/16 in. (6.985 × 7.461 cm)
Gift of Davida Tenenbaum Deutsch and Alvin Deutsch, LL.B. 1958, in honor of Kathleen Luhrs

This is technically one of the finest, and certainly the most sensual, portrait painted by the popular Boston miniaturist William Doyle. He exploited the transparency of the ivory support to evoke the reflective glow of the flesh tones in this likeness of a beautiful young lady. Nothing is known about the sitter, who chose to pose in a see-through dress, exposing pale skin and pink nipples beneath sheer fabric. At the time, teenaged girls embracing French neoclassical fashion are known to have worn such scanty attire, although not so often that their appearance went unnoticed. A letter written in 1804 describes the stir caused by a guest at a “select party” in Philadelphia: “She has made a great noise here and mobs of boys have crowded round her splendid equipage to see what I hope will not often be seen in this country, an almost naked woman… . Her dress was the thinnest sarsnet and white crepe without the least stiffening in it.” Doyle’s sitter may have offered her provocative portrait to a gentleman as a love token. The pin depicted between the sitter’s breasts was possibly a love token from the gentleman to whom she gave this miniature. Doyle’s sitter may have dressed provocatively for everyone to see or saved her display for the eyes of the man who carried her portrait miniature. Her gesture provides a surprising and intimate glimpse into relationships at the turn of the century, when the passion for exchanging miniatures to celebrate romance, sanctioned or illicit, was at its height.

Made in Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Not on view
19th century
Miniatures - Jewelry

Edward Grosvenor Paine, by 1972; sold to Davida Tenenbaum Deutsch and Alvin Deutsch, New York


“Acquisitions, July 1, 2006–June 30, 2007,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2007): 190, ill.

Art for Yale: Collecting for a New Century, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2007), 72, pl. 52.

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.