One of the most impressive American portraits of the colonial period, this work was made by William Williams, an itinerant artist who also worked as a sailor, music and dance instructor, sign painter, and theater set designer. His sitter, Deborah Hall (1751–1770), was the daughter of the Philadelphia printer David Hall, who had once been in partnership with Benjamin Franklin. The richness of Deborah's costume, the elaborate (though imaginary) garden setting, and the size of the picture all serve as conspicuous signs of the family's wealth and status. There are also more subtle clues to the sitter's identity. Williams deployed certain artistic conventions—particularly, iconography from popular period emblem books—to endow Deborah with qualities that were valued in young women as they approached a marriageable age. For example, the rose that she plucks was a familiar symbol of love and beauty, the domesticated squirrel of obedience, and the mythological story of Apollo and Daphne, pictured on the pedestal, of chastity.
A verbal description of this work is available through Art Beyond Sight, a guide for people with visual impairments.
- Artist: William Williams, American, 1727-1791, active in America 1746-1776
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Dates: 1766
- Dimensions: 71 3/8 x 46 3/8 in. (181.3 x 117.8 cm) (show scale)
- Signature: Signed lower left: "Wm. Williams 1766"
- Collections:American Art
- Museum Location: This item is not on view
- Accession Number: 42.45
- Credit Line: Dick S. Ramsay Fund
- Rights Statement: No known copyright restrictions
- Caption: William Williams (American, 1727-1791, active in America 1746-1776). Deborah Hall, 1766. Oil on canvas, 71 3/8 x 46 3/8 in. (181.3 x 117.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 42.45
- Record Completeness: Best (87%)