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Silhouette of Martha Washington

19th century Unidentified watercolor on ivory image: 3 1/8 x 2 3/8 in. (8.0 x 6.0 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Bequest of Mary Elizabeth Spencer 1999.27.82 Not currently on view

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Martha Dandridge was born on a plantation near Williamsburg in 1731. At the age of eighteen, she married a rich Virginia landowner, Daniel Parke Custis. He died eight years later, however, leaving Martha one of the wealthiest women in Virginia. She became the “first of First Ladies” in 1759 with her marriage to George Washington, and together they traveled between the early capitals of New York and Philadelphia. Martha was known for her hospitality and once commented that she was “fond of only what comes from the heart.” This miniature is unusual because the artist added color over the top of a black silhouette, and spent less time capturing Martha’s features than he did painting her elaborate costume.


Dress - accessory - hat

Portrait female - Washington, Martha - bust

Portrait female - Washington, Martha - profile

painting - miniature

paint - watercolor