Framed oil 3/4 length portrait of Sally Buel (1780-1815) 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, Sally and Mary (see HD 56.122A) separately, and may have executed these portraits in exchange for his lodging. Despite her youthfulness, this painting of sixteen-year-old Sally Buel conveys her refinement and knowledge through her erect posture, confident gaze, elegant dress, and open book. The addition of the book within her portrait adds to the impression of her as a woman of intelligence, gentility, and thought. The portrait shows Sally seated, with her body facing toward the left but her head looking at the viewer. She has straight brown hair falling below her shoulders, and is wearing a light blue dress with a white, ruffled lace collar and two cuffs, and white sash around her waist with streamers at the right. While her sister, Mary, is more conservatively attired, Sally’s dress reflects a younger style, and hints at the change to a more streamlined, Neoclassical appearance in women’s dress by the early 19th century. Her dress, though still worn with stays underneath, exhibits a more relaxed fit, and she adds a sash to achieve a raised, round waistline. There is a tree trunk on her right and green meadows, water, trees, and touches of pink in the sky over the distant hills in the background. 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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