With Mother's Day coming up this weekend, I'm sharing one of my favorite portraits from the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. I love how The Smith Family shows the mother, Rachel King Smith (1774-1823), as the center of both the picture, and their extended family. She looks like an energetic, fun mother, too. How many other 19th c. mothers are depicted so informally, with a child perched on her shoulders?
But what makes this picture extra special is that it's believed to have been painted by her husband, Captain James Smith (1762-1818), a Scottish sea captain who had sailed to India and southeast Asia. From this painting, he clearly loved his wife. According to the painting's placard, the family faced considerable challenges - only five of their nine children survived to adulthood, and there were financial woes as well – which must have made him appreciate her all the more.
Family tradition credits Captain James Smith with having painted this group portrait of his extended family. He included himself, in profile at the upper right. In 1790, the sea captain and merchant settled in Dumfries, Prince William County, Virginia, where he and his family occupied a 600-acre estate called Cedar Grove. A decline in the local shipping industry forced Smith into bankruptcy and relocation. In the fall of 1806, he opened a mercantile store in Richmond, and his family joined him there the following spring. The portrait is thought to have been painted around the time of their reunion.
Happy Mother's Day!
Above: The Smith Family, by Captain James Smith (possibly). Probably Richmond, VA, c. 1807. Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.