: Who is this?
Abigail Pickman Gardiner, the woman in the portrait, was the wife of the wealthy landowner and physician Sylvester Gardiner who had made his fortune importing drugs for distribution and sale. It was painted within a year of the wealthy New England couple’s 1772 marriage.
Which of these women was wealthier?
Both women were wealthy. Even if we didn't know anything about them, we could guess this, because portraits were luxury items in the 18th century and only the elite owned fine portraits like these.
However, eighteenth century Spanish America was generally wealthier than British America. (The woman in yellow is Spanish-American, and the woman in rose and green is British-American.)
The British-American colonies hasn't yet established themselves in international trade the way Spain's colonies had, and the British colonists were still working to market their colonies' natural resources.
Spain was exporting gold and silver from places like Mexico, but the British-American colonies (Copley painted portraits in New England, for example) were not yet doing business on that scale, so the Spanish territories often had more money.
This woman has got to be the wealthiest, right?
Both portraits are intended to convey the wealth, elegance, and elite status of the sitter through material means, but due to different national tastes and fashions they do so rather differently. Any particular reason you thought Mrs. Abigail Pickman Gardiner here is the wealthier of the two?
The other woman seemed to be more ostentatious in her display of wealth, maybe trying harder to cover up a less-than-affluent status.
Interesting, so like a "nouveau riche"!
In her particular case though, that's not the case. Doña Maria de la Luz Padilla y Cervantes (1732-1789) came from the well-known and impeccable Cervantes lineage, who allied themselves through marriage to another very prestigious and old family, the Velasco, who were former viceroys of New Spain (Mexico) and Peru. Here she is represented in the pinnacle of fashion for 18th-century Mexico City. Her fine Chinese silk brocade dress was probably imported from Valencia, Spain, and is enhanced by her powdered hair, elaborate jewelry and her five chiqueadores (the glued false beauty spots made of black velvet.)
Mrs. Gardiner on the other hand was the wife of the wealthy landowner and physician Sylvester Gardiner, who had made his fortune importing drugs for distribution and sale. (So she was more the "nouveau riche" of the two!) She is shown in a daringly uncorseted costume "à la turque," which was all the rage in London and served to attest to Mrs. Gardner's modern taste. Although her elegant costume seems less extravagant than Doña Maria's, its yards of silk and subtle pearl trim were not cheap.
And of course, Mrs. Gardner's substantial figure also conveyed her affluence. In the 18th century, extra body weight was a sign of being able to afford a plentiful diet.
Woah. That's incredible. That's maybe what threw us off: her weight relative to the other. Thanks!
Who was wealthier? Abigail Pickman or Dona Cervantes?
Both women were wealthy. Even if we didn't know anything about them, we could guess this, because portraits were luxury items in the 18th century and only elite owned fine portraits like these. There might be clues of their status based on their clothing.
I think Cervantes' clothes look more expensive because of the materials and the amount of work that went into making them
Great observation! Typically during this period the Spanish dressed in this very luxurious way. Spain was exporting gold and silver from places like Mexico, but the English-American colonies (where Copley painted portraits, in New England) were not doing business on that scale so the Spanish territories often had more money.
We are looking for objects in the museum made in the Americas before 1776. Where should we go?
The first gallery after the entrance gallery in American Identities shows portraits and furniture from colonial America around and a little before that time period and you should absolutely see the Arts of the Americas exhibit, "Life, Death and Transformation".
Thank you! Are there objects from this period in Visible Storage?
Yes, definitely. Go to the back drawers and you'll see some great objects from the American collection, though I'm not sure what time periods you'll find.
Super. Thank you! My students are here trying to piece together colonial America through material culture. I've done the project several times and wanted to be sure I didn't miss anything new. Thank you for being amazing, BMA.
If you want to dig into some specific objects, the portrait of Mrs. Silvester Gardiner in that first gallery I mentioned might be interesting to look at. It was painted in 1772 and during the revolution, her husband tended to hurt British soldiers after the battle of Bunker Hill, and was quite vocal about his Tory views. They ended up sailing back to England in 1778.
You'll also notice that many of the portraits in that gallery have unusual styling, that is because many of the portrait artists in Colonial America were self-taught, often relying on reproduced prints of European artworks to train themselves.
They were really excited to find the Zuni necklace. And they were fascinated by the portraiture. Thank you!
You're very welcome. I hope you and your class will be able to visit again, too!
Tell me more.
Abigail Pickman Gardiner, the woman in the portrait, was the wife of the wealthy landowner and physician Sylvester Gardiner who had made his fortune importing medicinal drugs for distribution and sale.
She is shown in a daringly uncorseted gown in a supposedly Turkish style, "à la turque," which was all the rage in London and served to attest to her modern taste.
The Gardiners married in 1772. Sylvester Gardiner, her husband, was a supporter of the British royal government and assisted the British army during the Revolution. Eventually, the family fled back England and lived there in exile.