Portrait of Mrs. George B. Ely (Caroline Boies Ely)

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Portrait of Mrs. George B. Ely (Caroline Boies Ely)

United States, 1895
Oil on canvas
48 1/16 x 36 1/4 in. (122.08 x 92.08 cm)
Miss Elizabeth L. Ely Bequest (42.7)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Caroline Boies Ely (1825 or 1826-1904) was the daughter of Justus Boies of Northampton, Massachusetts....
Caroline Boies Ely (1825 or 1826-1904) was the daughter of Justus Boies of Northampton, Massachusetts. During her youth she met many prominent figures and wrote reminiscences of Rufus Choate and Daniel Webster. In 1848 she married George Byron Ely (1826-1886) and in 1851 they moved to Hanesville, Wisconsin, where he established a law practice and was later elected district attorney. In 1861, as captain, he raised a company that formed part of the Iron Brigade; he left the army with the brevet rank of lieutenant colonel. Appointed paymaster during the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln, he and his family moved to Washington, D.C., where Mrs. Ely is known to have visited the wounded in the hospitals. At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War Mrs. Ely wrote an article protesting it, recalling the horrors of war she had known. Her son, Arthur H. Ely, was an attorney, and her three daughters, including Elizabeth L. Ely, who bequeathed the portrait to the museum, founded the distinguished Misses Ely’s School, last located in Greenwich, Connecticut (LACMA, American Art department files, Mr. William F. McChesney to LACMA, August 18, 1973). The frontal, seated pose, originally reserved for royalty, is one Chase frequently used, especially for women. The chair is probably one of the several armchairs of seventeenth century Spanish design to be found in his elaborately furnished studio. The choice of a highnecked, black dress and a white head-covering enhances the sense of a period portrait.

About The Era

The late nineteenth century witnessed a growing cosmopolitanism and sophistication in American culture....
The late nineteenth century witnessed a growing cosmopolitanism and sophistication in American culture. Great riches were amassed by railroad tycoons and land barons, and along with this came the desire for a luxurious standard of living. Collectors filled their homes with European as well as American works of art. American artists, generally trained abroad, often painted in styles that were indistinguishable from their European counterparts.
Most Americans who studied abroad did so in the European academies, which promoted uplifting subject matter and a representational style that emphasized well-modeled, clearly defined forms and realistic color. Academic painting served American artists well, for their clients demanded elaborate large-scale paintings to demonstrate their wealth and social positions. With an emphasis on material objects and textures, academic artists immortalized their patrons’ importance in full-length portraits.
Academic painting dominated taste in Europe throughout the century. But in the 1860s impressionism emerged in France as a reaction to this hegemony. By the 1880s this “new painting” was still considered progressive. Mary Cassatt was the only American invited to participate in the revolutionary Paris impressionist exhibitions. Despite her participation and the early interest of several other American painters, few Americans explored impressionism until the 1890s. Impressionist painters no longer had to choose subject matter of an elevated character but instead could depict everyday scenes and incidents. Nor did impressionists have to record the physical world with the objective detail of a photograph. Artists were now encouraged to leave their studios and paint outside under different weather conditions. American impressionists used the new aesthetic to capture the charm and beauty of the countryside and the city as well as the quiet delicacy of domestic interiors.


  • About the Era.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991.