CHILD HOLDING DOLL AND SHOE
George G. Hartwell
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- CHILD HOLDING DOLL AND SHOE
- Attributed to George G. Hartwell (1815–1901)
- Probably Massachusetts or Maine
- c. 1845
- Oil on canvas
- 26 3/4 x 21 3/4 in.
- American Folk Art Museum, gift of Robert Bishop, 1992.10.1
- Posthumous portraiture was most prevalent in America during the nineteenth century, when the importance of the nuclear family resisted even death's efforts to tear it asunder. Portraits after death were taken from the corpse, adapted from existing daguerreotypes, based on earlier portraits, or even modeled on family members with similar features. This portrait of an unidentified child is replete with symbols that would have been commonly understood by contemporary audiences to indicate that the child was deceased. These include the departing ship in the background, the dead, cut-off trunk with a cluster of grapes, and scattered roses. For many years it has been conjectured that the depiction of children with one shoe off was indicative of death, but some scholars have proposed that it is as likely to be a motif betokening the transition from infancy to toddlerhood. It was typical to show a deceased child as he or she was in life, surrounded by or holding familiar objects. Based on the doll held in this child's hand, it is likely that the toddler is female.
The portrait was probably painted by George G. Hartwell, an artist who was closely allied to William Matthew Prior and Sturtevant J. Hamblin through the marriage of his sister Elizabeth to Joseph G. Hamblin, a brother of Sturtevant. Hartwell lived in Boston about the time that the Hamblins and Priors took up residence there, and it was then, in 1845, that he painted the signed and dated portrait of Jonathan Wheeler of Lowell that forms the basis for most of the attributions made to him. It is not known when Hartwell returned to his home state of Maine, but most of his adult life was spent there in the town of Lewiston, where he was a respected portrait, sign, window-shade, and banner painter. He moved to the home of his nephew Harry Hartwell in the neighboring town of Auburn about one year before his death at the age of 86.
Hartwell's painting style is sometimes difficult to distinguish from that of Prior and Hamblin. All three artists painted in the flat style "without shade or shadow" advertised by Prior, but Hartwell's portraits tend to be the most schematic and abstracted, perhaps because of his experience as a sign painter. Most of the subjects in portraits that can be confidently attributed to Hartwell are in three-quarter view and show heavy outlining, two-toned lips, and smooth areas in varying shades on the cheeks, noses, and under the brows to suggest modeling. Several of the portraits also feature roses painted in the particular manner seen in this portrait.
- Photo by Gavin Ashworth