This lovely portrait of “Henrietta” shows the importance 19th century young women placed on art and on friendship. The work is simple, naïve and of the type of work that girls were taught at 19th century girl’s academies. The vibrant blue of Henrietta’s hat and strikingly beautiful blue eyes is the backbone of the portrait’s structure. The blue continues in the blue-green color of the leaves and stems that are part of the floral addition to Henrietta’s hat and in her hand. The only other color family used in the portrait is red, which we find in the coral beaded necklace Henrietta wears, her tiny mouth, the pale pink flowers and the red of her curled hair. The rest relies on pen & ink outlining of the lace at her neckline and sleeves and the shading used to detail the painting. It is a simple formula that is very pleasing to the eye. It is likely that the artist learned the formula and honed her skills at one of the 19th century girl’s academies.
Girls of families that could afford their daughters’ education at a Girl’s Academy learned only subjects that were deemed “appropriate” (sometimes known as “permissible amusements”) for young ladies. Art was certainly at or near the top of permissible amusements and girls spent a lot of time being taught arts such as painting, drawing and literary arts. Young ladies of wealth (and therefore time) continued to practice art after graduation. Art of permissible categories could, in the minds of the 19th century, help a lady find a suitable gentleman and marry appropriately. Citizens of the 19th century put great stock in a young lady’s ability to practice the refined arts, including painting. By mid-19th century, patterns and instructions for many artistic projects could be found in published magazines for ladies such as Godey’s Lady’s Book & Magazine, The Happy Home & Parlor Magazine, and Lady’s Home Magazine of Literature, Art and Fashion are a few examples. This allowed the not-so-wealthy young girls and women a chance to learn to paint and work on other art projects that they might have learned at an academy.
19th century citizens were quite demonstrative with friendships and love. They presented friends of both sexes with tokens of friendship such as small paintings, poems, cut and woven hearts and hands, pressed flowers, braided locks of hair. It appears that this lovely portrait is one such token. It bears three names: Henrietta, the subject, Helen M. Twombly, the artist, and the receiver of the gift is identified with the inscription “To Mary”. The inscriptions are each written in different, beautiful, cursive fonts in ink. This lovely portrait is framed in the possibly original carved wood frame that is painted brown. Where the frame is scratched, we see that there is an undercoat of red paint. Framed size is 18.75” x 15”, sight size is 14.5” x 10.75. There is some light staining to the paper which is also a bit wrinkled at the edges. American School, mid-19th century.