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The Woman In The Portrait

Posted Dec 19 2010 12:00am
Yesterday we went to the Gibbes Museum of Art . As I was walking down a hall (ok in a hurry after Kayla) one portrait in particular caught my eye. It caused me to stop for a split second and do a double take. Once I found Kayla I had to go back to this portrait. Was I really seeing what I thought I was seeing? Could it be?

This is the portrait. What I saw was a portrait of a beautiful young girl who I was sure had Down syndrome. Her eyes seemed to have that well-known almond shape and upward slant. Her fingers also appeared smaller/shorter. (Image from the Gibbes Museum Online Database )
 I wondered if there was any information on who she was and read the card next to the portrait. All it said about her was her name was Judith Smith and under that it said (Mrs James Ladson) with the years she was born and died. Hmmm... she had been married. Maybe she didn't have Down syndrome after all, but I really thought those eyes were unmistakable and I was intrigued to try and find out more.

When I got home I went to trusty Google to see what else I could find out about her. There wasn't much more beyond the information that was on the card; just who her parents were and that she and James had children; one report had 7 daughters. James Ladson was an officer in the Continental Line during the Revolution.

The only other portrait I came across of Judith was this one (also from the Gibbes Museum Online Database ). She's obviously older but her eyes do not look like the younger one I saw in the museum at all. Nor do the fingers. It was also done by a different artist.


So I looked up the artist who did the first portrait - John Wollaston . Under the heading for his style it says,  "... and his subjects are smiling and oval-eyed. His treatment of the subjects' eyes in particular is considered somewhat peculiar, and serves to identify even his unsigned portraits."

Ok, so I guess the mystery about the woman in the portrait was solved; she didn't have Down syndrome after all.

It is interesting though. Why Mr. Wollaston painted eyes the way he did. I wonder if there was some personal reason he painted his subjects with 'oval-eyes'. 

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