Saturday, July 2, 2011

Deciphering a portrait’s message: Elizabeth Willing Powel

Elizabeth Willing was the sister of Thomas Willing, father of Anne Willing, featured in the last two posts (click here, and here, for the posts or scroll down). Elizabeth, after a few failed romances (rumor linked her John Dickinson the celebrated author of Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania) settled on Samuel Powel whose grandfather was known as the “rich carpenter”—this ‘rich carpenter’ had prospered from the combination of his trade as carpenter, his investment in real estate, and a stratgic marriage to a Quakeress.

Elizabeth Willing married Samuel Powel in 1769. She lost two sons soon after birth, remained childless, and was widowed for thirty-six years.

Using intuition, common sense and scholarly research, David Maxey has written a delightful ‘who dunnit’ mystery to unlock the secrets on the origins of a portrait of Elizabeth. What do the symbols mean in the portrait, why is she dressed the way she is (no jewels, simple dress without stay), when and why was the portrait commisssioned and who painted it? What happened to it with the passage of time?

All of this is answered admirably by David Maxey in
“A Portrait of ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL 1743-1830
American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 2006

To all of you, my readers, I highly recommend this delightful booklet on Elizabeth Willing Powel, and the deciphering of her Portrait. Hint: the portrait was NOT done by Gilbert Stuart.

1 comment:

jay said...

Wow! This is a fascinating blog! There will be a post on Gilbert Stuart tomorrow in my blog SILVAE ( and I will make a link to your blog. I hope that this is O.K. with you

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