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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Painting: 18th century: Jeremiah Williams
Jeremiah Williams

Jeremiah Williams
about 1789-90
Christian Gullager
oil on canvas
29 5/8 x 24 3/4 in. (75.4 x 62.9 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase

Jeremiah Williams was a merchant from Roxbury, Massachusetts, who dealt in "a general assortment of West-India Goods," according to the 1789 Massachusetts Centinel. In 1787 he married Matilda Davis, whose father, Caleb Davis, was a significant figure in Boston society. Williams's obituary mentioned his wealthy father-in-law, suggesting that the union with Matilda elevated his own status in society (Sadik, Christian Gullager: Portrait Painter to Federal America, 1976). Christian Gullager painted the young merchant wearing handsome clothing and a stern, imposing expression. The papers in the sitter's hand and books on the table behind were often incorporated into colonial paintings to emphasize the sitter's education and refinement. Williams's portrait projects a social standing that men of his class aspired to, even if they had not yet achieved it.

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