Dallas Museum of Art

Dallas, Texas

(214) 922-1200


DMA Exhibition Focuses on Colonial Portraits

Faces of a New Nation: Colonial American Portraits

October 19, 1997 - January 10, 1998

Focus Gallery



John Smibert, Eleanor Nightingale, 1727


Faces of a New Nation: Colonial American Portraits, on view at the Dallas Museum of Art from October 19, 1997, through January 10, 1998, traces the development of portraiture in the British colonies and the new nation between 1722 and 1850. Featured are the Museum's recently acquired portraits of Woodbury Langdon and his wife, Sarah, painted by John Singleton Copley in 1767.

"Portraits traditionally are only interesting if you know the sitter," said Consulting Curator of American Art Eleanor Jones Harvey. "This exhibition represents an attempt to understand the importance of American portraiture as we developed from 12 colonies to an independent nation," said Ms. Harvey. "The exhibition also sets out to reveal what is interesting about these individuals. Each one has a story to tell, and each painting reveals clues to the individual and the times in which he or she lived."

In addition to the pair of paintings by Copley, the exhibition features the DMA's pairs of husband-and-wife paintings by John Smibert and Gilbert Stuart.

"Smibert's portraits are emblematic of British aristocracy, using such accepted conventions as pose and dress to convey a sense of taste and breeding. The balance shifts toward depiction of the individual with the more personal likenesses of Woobury and Sarah Langdon," said Ms. Harvey. "With the Stuart portraits there is a renewed sense of emblem, as Mr. and Mrs. Ashley bear a strong resemblance to George and Martha Washington."


Gilbert Stuart, John Ashley, Esq., c. 1798



This exhibition provides insight into the individual personalities of both artist and sitter, and they give the viewer a window into our country's past, according to Ms. Harvey.

"John Smibert was the first professionally trained portraitist in the American colonies. He came to the colonies in 1728 and immediately established the new standard for colonial portraiture, said Ms. Harvey.

"Copley was the natural inheritor of that tradition. He was essentially self-taught, yet he exceeded all expectations of his ability to portray the people of his place and time. Gilbert Stuart raises questions about the nature of patriotism when the sitter is made to resemble the President and First Lady of the new United States," she said.


Gilbert Stuart, Mrs. John Ashley, c. 1798



Other 18th- and 19th-century portraits in the DMA's collections provide additional insight into the varied nature of the portrait tradition. They range from Ralph Earl's portrait of Captain John Pratt, completed in 1792, to Rembrandt Peale's portrait of George Washington, circa 1850.

Jay Gates, The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art, said, "This innovative exhibition reflects the DMA's ongoing commitment to making art accessible to all visitors, and it holds particular value for understanding the relevance of art to modern society."


John Smibert, Edward Nightingale, c. 1722-1724


Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 1997 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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