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[AC] Mead Art Museum at Amherst College; [HC] Hampshire College Art Gallery;
[HD] Historic Deerfield; [MH] Mount Holyoke College Art Museum; [MH SK] The Joseph Allen Skinner Museum at Mount Holyoke College; [SC] Smith College Museum of Art; [UM] University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMASS Amherst


Maker(s):Earl, Ralph
Culture:American (1751-1801)
Title:portrait: Mary Buel
Date Made:1796
Materials:oil, canvas, wood
Place Made:United States; Connecticut; Litchfield
Measurements:framed: 41 1/4 in x 35 3/8 in x 1 1/2 in; 104.775 cm x 89.8525 cm x 3.81 cm
Accession Number:  HD 56.122A

Framed oil 3/4 length portrait of Mary Buel (1778-1796) of Litchfield, Connecticut, signed "R Earl pinxit 1796" for Ralph Earl (1751-1801). Born in Massachusetts, Ralph Earl was an itinerant artist who painted at least 183 portraits and 6 landscapes, including a panorama of Niagara Falls. Earl initially worked in Connecticut, but his loyalist sympathies necessitated his moving to London in 1778 where he studied with Benjamin West (1738-1820). In 1785, Ralph returned to America, first to Boston and then NYC where he set up a studio. However, after a series of lawsuits, he was incarcerated in debtors’ prison from September 1786 to January 1788 where he continued to paint portraits. Upon release, Earl returned to Connecticut where he made a career as an itinerant artist painting the likenesses of New England’s rural elite over the next 10 years. During Earl’s frequent visits to Litchfield, he and his family resided at the tavern of David Buel (1747-1836) and Rachel McNeil Buel (1753-1826) while Earl painted the residents of the town. Ralph Earl painted the Buels’ daughters, Mary and Sally (see HD 56.122) separately, and may have executed these portraits in exchange for his lodging. This painting of eighteen-year-old Mary Buel conveys her refinement and knowledge through her erect posture, confident gaze, and elegant dress. The portrait shows Mary seated in an red-upholstered armchair, with her body facing toward the right but her head looking at the viewer. She is wearing a starched, white cotton or linen cap secured with a matching silk ribbon over her straight brown hair falling below her shoulders, which reveals her status as the older of the two girls, and a long-sleeved a solid-colored, olive green silk gown carefully molded to the stays or corset worn underneath, and a white, ruffled lace collar and black belt with an oval gold buckle at the right. Mary is holding a ball in her right hand, which a small black and white dog with his paw on her lap watches intently; her right arm rests on on the chair arm with some of the fullness of her dress tucked under her elbow. There are fringed crimson drapes behind her, and a window on the right with a view of rolling meadows, water, trees, and a pink sky over distant hills in the background. Mary, who attended the Sarah Pierce Female Academy in Litchfield during the first half of 1796, was also known as Polly. She died young, on June 6, 1796. Two years later, in 1798, the Buell family, including David, Rachel, and Sally moved to Troy, NY, where Sally married Dr. John Bird (1768-1808) of Troy in 1799; Earls' wife, Ann, and the Earl's two children also moved to Troy later in 1798

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