Sunday, February 17, 2019

Portrait of 18C American Women

1750 Millicent Conway Gordon (c 1721-1748) by John Hesselius (1728-1778). Signed and dated “J. Hesselius Pinx/1750” at lower right. VA Hist Soc

Millicent Gordon (born Conway) was born in 1727, at Lancaster County, Virginia, to Colonel Edwin Conway III & Ann Susanna Conway (born Ball). Colonel was born on October 3 1681, in Christ Church, Lancaster, VA. Ann was born on October 3 1686, in Millenbeck, Lancaster, Virginia. Millicent married James Gordon IV in 1742. James was born in 1714, in Sheepbridge, Newry, Down Co., Ireland. He was a merchant, tobacco exporter, planter, & Justice of the Peace. They had 4 children. Millicent passed away on month day 1748, at age 27. James died in 1768.

The Virginia Museum of History & Culture tells us that the Gordon portraits depict the family of an Ulster merchant & planter of Scottish origin who emigrated to Lancaster County in 1738. Through trade with merchants in the British Isles & the West Indies, voracious land purchasing, & active public service, James Gordon quickly rose to prominence, which he celebrated in 1751 by commissioning a sizeable group of large, expensive portraits of himself, his successive wives, his 3 children, & his brother who had emigrated with him. Posed in contemporary clothing before grandiose, artificial settings of an outdated 17C portrait tradition, the sitters seem provincial.  The commission for the Gordon portraits seems to have resulted simply from the sudden availability in Virginia in 1751 & 1752 of a competent artist, either John Hesselius or Robert Feke. Both appeared in the colony at this time; Hesselius emulated the style of the much more accomplished Feke. Hesselius’s practice of the John Wollaston [English-born American Rococo Era Painter, c1710-1775] style in Virginia & Maryland continued until the mid-to-late 1760s, when his work began to shift toward likenesses that were increasingly penetrating & realistic. 

For family history, see: Hayden, Horace Edwin. Virginia genealogies : a genealogy of the Glassell family of Scotland and Virginia: also of the families of Ball, Brown, Bryan, Conway, Daniel, Ewell, Holladay, Lewis, Littlepage, Moncure, Peyton, Robinson, Scott, Taylor, Wallace, and others, of Virginia and Maryland. (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.: E.B. Yordy, printer, 1891), p. 248