Title: Mrs. Lavinia M. Parcells Pike and Baby Mary Elizabeth
Oil on Canvas
33 7/8 x 27 3/4 in. (86 x 70.5 cm) Overall, Frame: 43 1/16 x 36 3/8 x 3 in. (109.4 x 92.4 x 7.6 cm)
Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch
This portrait is a unique glimpse into the life of a 19th century woman in the growing city and society of New York, Mrs. Pike. Desiring the luxuries once afforded only by society’s elite, the rising class of merchant families sought portraits, paintings, and prints to decorate their homes and validate their social standing. Although unable to retain the services of fashionable New York portraitists such as Gilbert Stuart, Mrs. Pike was able to sit for a lesser-known, yet skilled, artist due to the prosperous business of her husband, Noah Thorpe Pike. Mrs. Pike would have been considered a fashionable woman of her day, as seen by her large gigot sleeves that narrow at the wrist and her white lace collar, or perlerine, that were both popular during the time of her portrait. The unknown artist paid considerable attention to the meticulous patterns in the lace and jewelry worn by the sitter, and includes the candid detail of the child playing with her mother’s chain.
Much information about the unknown painter and time period can be gained by closely looking and comparing the portrait to others of its day. The painter of the Chrysler Museum of Art’s Mrs. Lavinia M. Parcells Pike and Baby Mary Elizabeth was most likely not trained in a school for artists, although the artist was skilled. The portrait has a somewhat flat tonal quality in the skin, and emphasizes the dress of the sitter. An formally trained painter would have been concerned with communicating the character of Mrs. Pike through facial features and expression, with the details of the costume or setting being less important. By comparison to the portrait of Miles Sherbrook (see the Chrysler’s Colonial and Revolutionary America resource), Mrs. Pike’s skin does not have the variety and depth of color. The result is a portrait that appears more decorative than naturalistic. Although Mrs. Pike’s portrait was not signed or dated, the scrolled arm of the neoclassical couch on which she sits, her bonnet, jewelry, dress, and hairstyle suggest that the portrait was painted some time near 1830.