Portrait of Mrs. Sackett

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Portrait of Mrs. Sackett

United States, 1839
Paintings
Oil on wood panel
48 x 35 1/8 in. (121.92 x 89.22 cm)
Gift of Dr. Herbert and Elizabeth Sussman (M.86.310.1)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Because no portraits survive that can be attributed beyond doubt to William Jewett, whereas numerous, accomplished portraits by Waldo are known, it has been thought that Jewett’s contributions to thei...
Because no portraits survive that can be attributed beyond doubt to William Jewett, whereas numerous, accomplished portraits by Waldo are known, it has been thought that Jewett’s contributions to their joint efforts were limited to the drapery, accessories, and background. However, Jewett’s portrait style may have so resembled that of Waldo, his teacher, that they may have been able to work on the likeness together without the slight difference in their personal styles being apparent in the result. Tuckerman wrote that it was "a puzzle to the uninitiated to assign to either painter his share of a portrait," and so it remains (Tuckerman 1867, p. 67). If Jewett’s principal work was in the drapery and backgrounds, the portrait of Mrs. Sackett, being considerably larger than the firm’s usual size of portrait, provided exceptional scope for his abilities. There is considerable space around the figure, who stands in a velvet dress with full lace sleeves, enough space for a table or bracket with a vase of flowers behind her, a table with a large book of engravings atop it in front of her, as well as the distant landscape vista and the vine that softens the transition between the spaces and climbs into the room itself The imagery is that of an elegant interior somehow joined, through the flowers and landscape, with the natural realm, characterizing Mrs. Sackett in terms of the feminine ideal of the romantic period. The conspicuously free handling in the accessories blends imperceptibly with the firmer, but still softened likeness. It is the "speaking likeness" for which Waldo, and Waldo and Jewett, were known, the impression of an intelligent, friendly personality that looks directly at the viewer in a warm greeting. It is unfortunate that so little is known about this vividly portrayed personality, this Mrs., or Miss, Sackett. Without knowing her first name, it is a formidable task to identify her among the very large Sackett family. Descendants indicate that she married a General Steward. The bracelet she wears in the portrait descended with it in the family.
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About The Era

The art of the early Federal period did not greatly differ from that of the late colonial era. Portraits dominated the small field of painting....
The art of the early Federal period did not greatly differ from that of the late colonial era. Portraits dominated the small field of painting. Victories on land and at sea in the War of 1812 brought the fledgling democracy greater confidence and new national pride. By 1829, when Andrew Jackson assumed the presidency, the foundations for an independent culture were securely laid. The philosopher-poet Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed the mood of the country in 1837: “our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close.” The following decades would bring a swell of artistic creativity, focused on native themes that extolled the seemingly limitless bounty of the New World.
Portraiture, and to a lesser extent history painting, continued to occupy American artists, but increasing numbers turned to views of the local countryside and its inhabitants. Although the industrial revolution only began in the United States after the War of 1812, the following three decades witnessed economic changes, especially in the north, that significantly affected working conditions, family structure, and even religion. Paintings illustrated American virtues like ingenuity and industry as well as the pleasures of country life. The new taste for genre pictures—scenes of ordinary people involved in everyday activities—seemed ideally suited to the egalitarian attitude of the Jacksonian era.
This period also saw the rise of the country’s first truly national school of landscape painting, ultimately known as the Hudson River school. Its earliest, best-known exponent, Thomas Cole, sometimes painted romantic literary subjects in European settings, but his dramatic depictions of the American wilderness helped spur the popularity of American views. As the country developed, paintings of uninhabited wilderness were replaced by views of farms, towns, and factories, but American artists retained their sense of awe about the land.
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Bibliography

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