Art, Art Museums, Museum Exhibitions, Women in Art

“Women of Achievement in the Early Republic”: National Portrait Gallery, through September 13, 2013

In keeping with our goal of highlighting exhibitions featuring women and women artists who created lasting legacies in eras when all odds were against that ever happening, we feature this exhibition currently on view at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.  Entitled “A Will of Their Own: Judith Sargent Murray and Women of Achievement in the Early Republic“, the exhibition tells the story of 8 women who epitomized the opportunities for women to experience life beyond traditional female roles during the period of the American Revolution (1775-1781).

Judith Sargent Murray 1751–1820 by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815)
Oil on canvas, 1770–72
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois

Judith Murray, beginning in 1782, published poems and essays in New England periodicals, arguing for gender equality and emphasizing education and intellectual parity.

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Patience Wright 1725–1786, Unidentified artist
Oil on canvas, c. 1782
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Patience Wright was America’s first native-born sculptor.
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“‘A Will of Their Own’ highlights dynamic women who did not incite a collective women’s rights movement, but served as catalysts for future activism,” said Martin Sullivan, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “These lesser-known stories of the early Republic become powerful when told together.”

Anne Catharine Hoof Green c. 1720–1775 by Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827)
Oil on canvas, 1769
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Anne Catharine Hoof Green was editor of the Maryland Gazette and the official printer of documents for the colony of Maryland.
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Abigail Smith Adams 1744–1818, Unidentified artist
Oil on canvas, c. 1795
New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, NY

Abigail Smith Adams was a First Lady, the wife of John Adams, and political adviser to her husband, then to her son, John Quincy Adams.
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Theodosia Burr Alston 1783–1813, by Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (1770–1852)
Engraving, 1796
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Theodosia Burr Alston was hostess at the estate of her father, Aaron Burr.
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A portrait of Judith Sargent Murray (1751–1820) by John Singleton Copley serves as the centerpiece of the exhibition. Murray, beginning in 1782, published poems and essays in New England periodicals, arguing for gender equality and emphasizing education and intellectual parity. Other visionaries in the exhibition include First Lady Abigail Smith Adams, a savvy manager of the family farm and unofficial political adviser; Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, the first American-born Roman Catholic saint; Phillis Wheatley, a freed slave who became the first African American to publish a book; Anne Catharine Hoof Green, editor of the Maryland Gazette; Theodosia Burr Alston, erudite and eloquent hostess at the estate of her father, Aaron Burr; Patience Wright, America’s first native-born sculptor; and Mary Todd Whetten, who gained the confidence of the British and covertly aided the American cause.  [News Release, Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery]

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton 1774–1821, by Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (1770–1852)
Engraving, 1797
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, the founder of the American Sisters of Charity, is the country’s first native-born Roman Catholic saint.
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Phillis Wheatley c. 1753–1784, Unidentified artist
Engraving, 1773
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Phillis Wheatley was a freed slave, who became the first African American to publish a book.
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Margaret Todd Whetten 1739–1809, Unidentified artist
Pigmented wax and oil paint on glass, c. 1800
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Margaret Todd Whetten’s home served as a refuge for American spies during the Revolutionary War.

 

Related articles

A Will of Their Own: Judith Sargent Murray and Women of Achievement in the Early Republic

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