Slide-lid box with school-girl painted decoration
Western Massachusetts, dated July 4, 1831
Watercolor and ink on maple with original resin-based finish, replaced bone escutcheon, 3 1/2 x 11 x 7 3/8 inches
Inscribed in ink with verse, “White” and “Green” and “July 4, 1831.” With a later ink inscription on underside: “Mrs. Belle B. Gibbs.”
In a fine state of preservation with original painted decoration
Executed in transparent watercolor and ink on a dovetailed maple box with original resin based finish having a warm golden brown patina. This box is remarkable for the clarity and vibrancy of its well preserved landscape decoration painted from life and print sources. The scenes of local New England landscapes include: mountains, red-roofed Federal houses, outbuildings, fences, gardens, and row boat. The vignettes taken from print sources depict pastoral scenes with stone thatched roof cottages, fences, trees, and a castle ruin. The front of the box with a diamond-shaped bone escutcheon and steel lock, is flanked by a poetic verse in tiny block lettering above the names of the artists “White” and Green” and the date “July 4, 1831” in ornamental calligraphic lettering. The underside of the lid is inscribed in script: “This work is trifling, yet my friend, Perhaps to you ’twill sometimes End / A memory of those days that’s past, When joy, and pleasure fleeted past.” It has been suggested that this box may honor President James Monroe who died on July 4 1831. Monroe was popular in his day, overwhelmingly elected president in 1816 and 1820, during a period of increased nationalism after the War of 1812 known as the “Era of Good Feelings” between 1815 and 1825.
Charles F. Montgomery observed that “A little before 1800, ornamental painting became a part of the curriculum in girls’ schools in the United States; and as early as 1812 this was extended to include the painting of tables and work boxes. In Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian, the author writing of Newburyport, comments that in 1812 “Miss Mary Ann Colman was a good teacher of water color painting; the fruit and flower pieces executed at her school were natural and well done. She also taught painting on wood; several work boxes and work-stands, painted under her instruction, are still to be seen in the residences of some of our older citizens.” (American Furniture, The Federal Period…, p. 462.) Dean A. Fales, Jr., noted that “fond parents often obtained from cabinetmakers boxes or tables on which their daughters could demonstrate their newly acquired proficiencies.” (American Painted Furniture…, p. 177). For references to this genre see Charles F. Montgomery, American Furniture, The Federal Period in the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum (New York, 1969), figs 478-481; Dean A. Fales, Jr., American Painted Furniture 1660-1880 (New York, 1972), figs 284-286, 290-293; C. Kurt Dewhurst, Betty MacDowell and Marsha MacDowell, Artists in Aprons, Folk Art by American Women, (New York, 1979), figs 58-59; Nina Fletcher Little, Neat and Tidy: Boxes and Their Contents Used in Early American Households (New York, 1980), fig 70 and pl. 20; Cynthia V. A. Schaffner and Susan Klein, American Painted Furniture (New York, 1997), figs 1.37-1.43, and Stacy C. Hollander, Ed., American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum (New York, 2001), figs 248 and 250.
Owned by Isabella B. Gibbs (1826-1902), a music teacher from Russell, Massachusetts, a town near Springfield; Nathan Liverant & Son, Colchester, CT.