Update: This winsome folk double portrait sold at Skinner for $9,840 on March 4, 2017, well above its $4,000 to $6,000 estimate.
What you see: A double portrait of sisters Mary Elizabeth and Caroline Brackett of Newton, Mass., painted between the 1830s and the 1840s.
Who painted it? We don’t know. It’s unsigned. Nor do we know which girl is Mary Elizabeth and which girl is Caroline, or what happened to the girls later in life, or whether the flowers pictured in the sketch book they hold have any special symbolism. We do know that the artist lived with the Brackett family for a year at their Waverly Avenue home in Newton and paid the rent with his brush. Before moving on, he depicted all nine Brackett children and rendered a full-length portrait of their parents, Charles and Lucy.
What sets this folk portrait apart from other folk portraits? “I’ve seen a lot of folk portraits over the last 13 years. The good ones pop right out, for whatever reason–a modern look, an interesting composition, or interesting elements incorporated in the overall painting,” says Chris Barber, deputy director of American furniture and decorative arts at Skinner. “I liked it since the first time I saw a picture of it. It sticks out because it’s an interestingly composed double portrait, and the girls wear bright colors under a bright sky.” The portrait is also notable for showing the two outdoors and holding a sketch book rather than a pet or a toy. Girls were encouraged to draw, but drawing was seen as an indoor activity.
Why is the folk portrait estimated at $4,000 to $6,000? It is fresh to market, having remained in the sitters’ family until they consigned it to Skinner. Its subject matter–a pair of pretty little girls, dressed in identical pink gowns–increases its value. “There were many more old men who could afford to have their portraits painted than families who could afford to have all their children painted,” says Barber. “It could be just a rarity issue.”
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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Skinner.