Queries: Dressed portraits by Mary Way

Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff Art

Portrait miniatures, dressed fashion plates, and fabric pictures have been found in France, Italy, and England with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century examples also appearing in the United States. Dressed prints—the embellishment of fashion illustrations with fabrics to make them appear dressed—have been dated to the 1690s. 

The American artist Mary Way specialized in creating dressed portrait miniatures in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. She was born in New London in 1769 and first advertised in the Connecticut Gazette in 1809 that she had opened a school where lessons in painting, embroidery, lacework, and tambour along with reading and writing were available. Two years later she was in New York City where she offered her services as a portrait and miniature painter in the Columbian, a New York newspaper. Examples documented and attributed to Mary Way show that she cutout paper profiles, attached them to fabric backgrounds, rendered the facial features in watercolor and then pasted pieces of fabric onto the background to represent clothing.

European and American fabric pictures, dressed prints, and the dressed portrait miniatures of Mary Way are the subjects of research for a master’s thesis at the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture. Anyone who has a collection or knows the whereabouts of fabric pictures, dressed prints, and Mary Way portrait miniatures is asked to contact:

Cheryl-Lynn May
Academic Programs Department
Winterthur Museum and Country Estate
Winterthur, Delaware  19735

Image: Portrait miniature of a lady by Mary Way (1769-1833). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd. 2009.