Antique Portrait Marriage Pair by Rufus Porter
  • Rufus Porter is one of my favorite American folk artists.  I love to see his wall murals, I love his small watercolor portraits and I love learning about his fascinating life story.  I'll let you read a short biography of his life on my Folk Portrait Artists bios page (see the link below) and spend this time telling you about this wonderful pair of portraits.  Watercolor on paper, full of the precision and detail for which Porter is known, with the folk appeal of American small portraits, I'm so pleased to offer this marriage pair to you.  He signed so few of his portraits, that virtually all of the known portraits (these included) are attributed.

    Porter worked expeditiously yet provided his sitters with such wonderful detail.  These watercolor on paper portraits exhibit all of the individual details of Porter's signature style: 1) the opening of the ear canal painted the shape of a tiny heart with a striking apostrophe curving up word from the canal opening; 2) eyes painted with an ovoid – shaped, outlined iris, a shaded eyelid, and a vertical stroke that forms the pupil instead of a more typical round dot; 3) transparently painted watercolor which has left the skin tones difficult to discern after almost 2 centuries of paper oxidation (especially of the woman since her skin is lighter); 4) darker skin tones for man than his wife ; 5) shaded graphite skin tones on top of the painted flesh; 6) eyebrows extending to the edge of the forehead; 7) a painted brown line separating the lips; and 8) a straight foreword gaze by the sitter. As expected, Porter minutely detailed the hairstyles of his sitters with a fine, probably single – haired, paintbrush which he referred to as a “hair pencil”. The garments of this couple are delicately painted in watercolor with such fine detailed that it appears to be ink.  And, as with so many of Porter's portraits, the outside edges of the paper (outside of the oval format which he lightly drew in pencil) show where Porter tested his colors before applying the paint to the figures.

    The woman wears an empire waist dress with a beautifully detailed ruffed neckline.  Her sleeve has a small area of gathering and fullness at top.  The sleeve is then tight, probably to her wrist.  She wears a black beaded necklace and small earring.   The lovely lady's hairstyle has a braided knot at top of head, held high with large tortoise shell comb (the knot is not as high as Apollo knot of a few years later).  She wears loose curls at the nape of her neck. Her hair is parted in middle, the front pulled straight down and held in place at temple with clip.  Three tight curls hang below the hair clip to just the bottom of her ear. Her handsome husband has frilled-front shirt, a blue & white striped weskit, and a dark blue coat with the lapel notch is fairly high. His hair is just to the top of his jacket collar, combed forward at forehead and temples. He wears whiskers extending to mid-chin.

    As you can see in the photos, there is some fairly light yellowing to the paper, especially inside of the oval, where they have been exposed to light through the clear glass.  There is some fading of the skin tones (as described above).  Some edges of the paper of both portraits is irregular, as if it has been torn.  I really can't say whether the torn edges are something that has occurred during the portraits' lifetimes, or whether Porter originally tore the paper.  It is absolutely possible that he didn't have the right sized paper, had no scissors with him, and quickly tore the paper on a straight-edge.  The paper is not brittle, so I have my doubts that the paper was lost as part of the aging process.  There is a little bit of paper scuffing behind the woman's head, at eleven o'clock.  If you look really closely, there are a few, light, assorted spots on both figures.  The paper of both portraits has been taped with archival tape to an archival ragboard (see scans below).  The tape could be removed and it is 100% acid free, so it will not harm the paper if left in place (it is almost the same way I would do it....except I would have hinged Japanese rice paper tape to the back only).  The back of the woman's portrait has a later pencil inscription on the back saying, "Died January 30, 1877 / Aged 77 yrs 7 mnths".  The silhouettes are housed in what may be the original frame, although it has been repainted black over an earlier, very dry finish.  You can see the craquelere of the original finish through the more modern paint--but it is not a modern "faux" paint job made to look like it is dry....it really is just a flat, black paint over an earlier dry finish.  The églomisé verre glass mat appears to be original to these portraits (the oxidation of the paper fits the oval perfectly).  The decorative gold leaf corners are always an added plus to these glass mats.  There are areas of paint loss in the black of the reverse painted glass, but I have placed 100% acid free black paper behind the glass to help camouflage the losses and they are really not bad anyway (and there were no losses, we would have doubts about the true age of the reverse painting).  Framed size is 6 1/2" x 9", sight size is 4 1/2" x 7".  Circa 1820.

    A really great pair to greatly enhance your folk art collection!

    (#5319)    Price on Request

    Please see the Folk Portrait Artists page for more information about Rufus Porter .


    Anderson, Marna A Loving Likeness American Folk Portraits of the Nineteenth Century, (Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (1992), 32-34.

    Lefko, Linda Carter & Radcliffe, Jane E., Folk Art Murals of the Rufus Porter School, New England Landscapes 1825-1845,Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pennsylvania, 2011.

    Lipman, Jean, Rufus Porter Rediscovered, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., New York, 1980.