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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: Mary Way, American, 1769–1833
Artist, attributed to: Betsey Way Champlain, American, 1771–1825
Subject: Charles Briggs

Charles Briggs

ca. 1820

Watercolor on ivory

2 × 2 in. (5.1 × 5.1 cm)
framed: 4 3/8 × 4 3/16 in. (11.1 × 10.6 cm)
Gift of Mildred S. Prince
1969.37.1

Mary Way, a native of New London, Connecticut, distinguished herself as one of the earliest professional, female miniaturists in America. She presumably received her education at an academy for women in Connecticut, where she would have learned painting and needlework. Beginning in the 1790s, Way made her first miniatures of family and friends, some in watercolor on paper and others in the “dressed” style—a collaged form of portrait. At age forty-two, she moved to New York to pursue her work in miniatures. When blindness ended Way’s artistic career, forcing her to move back to New London in 1820, the American Academy of the Fine Arts held a benefit exhibition for her.

This portrait of Charles Briggs is one of a group of trio miniatures of the New London family. In the trio, husband and wife face each other in identical wood frames, made to hang on a wall or in a cabinet. In her accompanying portrait (1969.37.2), Elizabeth Briggs wears a black ruff around her neck, indicating that she is in mourning. She and her husband may have lost a child to an early death; the third portrait (1969.37.3), of a child rendered in exacting profile, rests in a locket rather than a frame. It therefore may have served as a wearable shrine for the parents.

Geography: 
Made in United States
Status: 
On view*
Culture: 
American
Period: 
19th century
Classification: 
Miniatures
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.