Sarah Goodrich: Mapping places in the heart

Editorial Staff Art

from The Magazine ANTIQUES, November/December 2012 |

In a time of cultural awakening when Boston was hailed as the Athens of America, Sarah Goodrich (Fig. 3) was the city’s pre-eminent portrait miniaturist, creating indelible likenesses for more than a quarter-century between 1815 and 1850. Favored by such notable patrons as Daniel Webster, Thomas Handasyd Perkins, Edward Everett, and William Lindall Winthrop, she graced her sitters with an aura of intimacy that still flames in the mind’s eye. Newly discovered examples of Goodrich’s work and further historical research have added to the narrative of her life and renew our appreciation of “America’s finest woman miniaturist.”1

The artist, who achieved sufficient financial success to purchase a town house on Boston’s fashionable Beacon Hill, was born in the small Massachusetts farming town of Templeton on February 5, 1788, the sixth of nine children of Ebenezer Goodridge and Beulah Childs. Today she is generally referred to as Sarah Goodridge, her birth name, yet the weight of historical evidence and her own last wishes dictate that Goodrich should be her proper appellation.2 As early as 1806 Goodrich was living in Boston as housekeeper for her brother William, considered the father of the city’s organ-building industry, but she would return summers to teach at the district schools where she had been educated. Largely self-taught as an artist, she began her professional career as a portraitist taking likenesses in Templeton in the summer of 1812, “first on coarse paper, life size, with red, white and black chalk, at fifty cents each, and then in water-colors, on paper, at a dollar and a half.”3 Returning to Boston that autumn to board with another brother, Eben, also in the organ-building trade, she devoted “herself almost exclusively to painting.” It was not until 1818, at the age of thirty, that she had enough confidence in her abilities to list herself in the Boston city directory as a “miniature painter,” the same year she executed the exquisite portrait of a young Nathaniel Ingersoll Bowditch shown in Figure 6.4

As Goodrich sought proficiency in her craft, taking up the special challenge of painting on ivory, she received lessons sometime around 1816 from a Hartford miniaturist, almost certainly Elkanah Tisdale (1768-1835), a native of Lebanon, Connecticut, who likely also instructed the accomplished miniaturist Anson Dickinson (1779-1852). Twenty years Goodrich’s senior and a lifelong bachelor, Tisdale had been active in Hartford and New York and worked in Boston, at least sporadically, from 1813 to 1817.5 The desperate opening lines of a letter Goodrich penned to Tisdale, dated January 14, 1819, make the writer sound more like a spurned lover than a devoted pupil:  Dearest Friend,

Yours of the 1st instant, so long expected, came at last, only yesterday … I have been sending [a letter] every day or two for three or four weeks past – in vain – I had a thousand fears and doubts…but I feel bitterly disappointed to learn…the improbability of your visiting Boston this winter – for…I have been indulging the hope of seeing you soon. I even imagine the reason you neglected writing might be that you were coming so speedily yourself.

I wish you would in your next [letter] be more explicit respecting the state of your affairs…and I hope I shall become so rational at least, as not to expect impossibilities.6

After this initial outpouring of disappointment and desire, she goes on to report art-related news. Notably, she mentions that she had “neglected calling on” her famous mentor Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) “for nearly three weeks,” which seems to pinpoint the start of their long friendship to 1818. Stuart loved playing the organ and in that year Eben Goodrich built the first reed organ in America and presented it to Stuart as a gift.7 Was it Eben’s generosity that sparked an introduction to his talented sister? Stuart’s daughter, Jane, reminiscing decades later about her father, noted that “Miss Goodrich, the miniature painter…was a great favorite of his,” her portrait “the most life-like of anything ever painted of him.”8 That likeness, so “full of fire and energy,”9 was later engraved by Asher B. Durand for inclusion in the National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, published in 1834.

“Memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist,” wrote Guy de Maupassant.10 Through the alchemy of art, the miniaturist could also bring someone back to life on ivory, and likenesses taken from the corpse were frequently commissioned in nineteenth-century America as tangible tokens of remembrance. Goodrich’s 1819 posthumous portrait of Jane Winthrop depicts the young woman as still living, seated next to her beloved spinet, her hand at rest as she seemingly recalls some now distant music (Fig. 4).11 A truant from time, Winthrop’s presence is restored, steadfast and serene, and returned once more to commune with her family.

Jane Winthrop was the daughter of Thomas Lindall Winthrop and Elizabeth Bowdoin Temple, whose maternal grandfather was James Bowdoin, governor of Massachusetts and one of the wealthiest merchants in New England. Her father, a direct descendant of John Winthrop, was a bank president, state legislator, and lieutenant governor as well as the president of the Massachusetts Historical Society and American Antiquarian Society and a member of the board of overseers of Harvard College. A day after her death at seventeen, her father described her as one of the “most innocent, purest minded, & loveliest Girls that perhaps ever existed.”12 Goodrich, still not at the height of her technical powers, must have been daunted by the unsettling task of painting a portrait that would satisfy the bereaved father. The somewhat awkward positioning of the body and blue sash suggest she was not entirely adept with the profile pose. The taut lips are evidence that a tight cloth had been wrapped around Jane’s face to keep her mouth closed. “Heads, and heads only, she loved to paint,” as Eliza Goodridge wrote of her sister’s work,13 proves true here as the right arm seems detached from the body and the left hangs limply like a stump. The right hand is inelegantly drawn. The background coloration of the miniature battles between darkness and light, perhaps symbolizing the transport of Jane’s soul to another realm.

A dramatic emotional counterpoint to Jane Winthrop’s portrait is Goodrich’s enchanting masterwork from 1820 of Georgina Gardner Lee (Fig. 1). Georgina was the daughter of the merchant George Gardner Lee, a Harvard graduate and former lieutenant in the United States Navy who died before she was born, and Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee, who became the accomplished author of more than a dozen books. The four-year-old with large eyes and cascading auburn curls poses with her favorite doll and a fantastically-hatted ginger-colored tabby cat, plumed with two Prince of Wales feathers. The scene is enriched by a swagged burgundy curtain as a backdrop. Note Goodrich’s subtle use of color as the purple fringe of the curtain is echoed in the grapes that adorn the cat’s cap. Many of the artist’s signature characteristics are evident in the portrait, including the background of blue diagonal hatches, the scribed highlights in the hair and heavily outlined irises of the eyes, and the shadow under the nose and lower lip, as well as the delicate flesh coloring in the face and the finely drawn mouth with a hint of a smile. With her father’s premature death, Georgina lived at her uncle William Sawyer’s house at 87 Mount Vernon Street, a twenty-room, Bulfinch-designed mansion on Beacon Hill (now home to the Colonial Society of Massachusetts), where she married John Bryant Jr., son of a shipping magnate, in 1835. Always in fragile health, she died in 1842 at the age of twenty-five on board a steamship headed for Havana and was buried at sea “‘mid coral and amber and pearls [where] she slumbers”14

The Boston Evening Transcript published an editorial on May 6, 1846, exhorting portrait painters to go beyond the simple mechanical rendering of a subject to discover an inner beauty: “Under the homeliest, commonest countenance, there is an inner lamp of unrevealed beauty, casting up at times into the features gleams of its light. These translucent moments-its truest and best states-the artist must seize in order to effect a full likeness.” These lines evoke the essence of Sarah Goodrich’s artistry in general and her portrait of Hannah Delano (Fig. 5) in particular. Mrs. Delano, a well-respected Bostonian, was the mother-in-law of Goodrich’s sister Beulah Appleton, as well as the great-grandmother of Martha Appleton (Fig. 11).15 After her first husband, William Appleton, died in 1798, Hannah “supported the family by keeping the best boarding house in Boston, at the old family mansion of Governor Bowdoin on Beacon Street. She had for guests many of the most noted men of the country-governors, judges, and members of Congress.”16 Daniel Webster and his family stayed there for several weeks when they first came to Boston in August 1816, and it is intriguing to speculate whether Goodrich and Webster were introduced there. The widow Appleton married Amasa Delano on June 21, 1803. Captain Delano, originally from Duxbury, Massachusetts, was a seasoned mariner and author who gained some renown with the publication in 1817 of his lengthy Narrative of Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, Comprising Three Voyages Round the World. Although his book met with success and was reprinted several times, it is poignant to note that when he died in 1823 the total value of his estate was $778.50, of which $774 represented seven hundred unsold copies of the book. Hannah survived the captain by twenty-two years, finally succumbing to heart disease in 1845. She is buried in the Appleton family plot in Mount Auburn Cemetery, alongside the artist who immortalized her on ivory.

“The quest for refinement was a leitmotif of the ante-bellum years” in Boston 17 and this, coupled with a strong spirit of patronage for the arts, created a cultivated clientele for Goodrich’s work. Thomas Handasyd Perkins, the famous China trade merchant and philanthropist, was one such patron. Goodrich’s elegant portrait of his daughter Caroline (Fig. 10) commemorates her marriage to the Harvard-educated lawyer William Howard Gardiner on April 13, 1823. The groom’s father, the Reverend Dr. J. S. J. Gardiner, the fifth rector of Boston’s Trinity Church, conducted the ceremony. The early book Heirlooms in Miniatures illustrates this piece and suggests it was painted by an “Italian Artist,”18 while a scrawled note tucked in back of the miniature claims attribution to Anna Claypoole Peale. The work is classic Goodrich, however, with its background of blue-green slanted hatching, green underpaint beneath the flesh tones, high facial coloring, a slanted ear with pearl-drop earring, and a red shawl adding a splash of dignified color.

Edward Blake Parkman, the grandson of Samuel Parkman, one of Boston’s wealthiest merchants, is captured by Goodrich in a stylish fur-trimmed red suit that reflects his elevated status (Fig. 12). The crimped shirt collar frames his angelic face and invites attention to his large expressive eyes and impish smile. Born in 1818, Edward was named after his uncle Edward Blake Jr., who had died the year before. The boy’s parents, Daniel Parkman and Harriet Tilden, were married on November 18, 1817, by the Reverend William Ellery Channing. Less than two years later his mother died of consumption at the age of twenty-two.  Edward’s uncle, Dr. George Parkman, was the victim in the famous murder case at Harvard in 1849, and the youth’s first cousin was the noted historian Francis Parkman. For a number of years, Edward’s boyhood home was his Parkman grandparents’ grand Federal mansion at 5 Bowdoin Square in Boston’s West End neighborhood. He attended the Chauncy-Hall School in 1828 and 1829 and the Boston Public Latin School the following year.19 He made a trip to Madeira in 1838, probably for his health, but died of consumption at twenty-three in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1841, and was placed in tomb number 35 under the old Trinity Church on Summer Street in Boston. Sublimed by the artist’s brush, Edward’s portrait endures, emblazoning him in memory.

In the years from 1824 to 1830, when Goodrich was at the height of her creative powers, those “translucent moments” came more frequently and can be savored in the astonishing round miniature portrait of Grenville Mellen (Fig. 2) in which the artist herself seems bewitched by the beauty of her sitter. Mellen attended Harvard College, where he was a member of the Knights of the Square Table, the Porcellian Club, and the Hasty Pudding Club. He spent a year at Harvard Law School as well, but left the practice of law to pursue his literary ambitions. Goodrich understood the language of the heart and so her portrait of the poet Mellen has a singularity of expression that affirms his calling. Like many poets, Mellen seems momentarily entranced by the musicality of his own thoughts as his averted gaze opens on to other worlds. The portrait of his handsome face, fleshy and soft with sensuous lips, was probably a gift to Mary King Southgate, whom he married in 1824. The New-York Tribune lamented his early death at the age of forty-two and noted that his “poetry has long been known as among the sweetest and the purest breathings of the American muse.”20

Another Goodrich portrait charged with masculine energy, though not of the soft dreamy kind, is the likeness of famed Boston orator Edward Everett (Fig. 9), whose chiseled good looks, it was said, “resembled a bust of Apollo.”21 Ralph Waldo Emerson, a Goodrich sitter himself, wrote that Everett had a “radiant beauty of person.”22 A man of prodigious intellectual capacity and real-world accomplishment, he was admitted to Harvard at the age of thirteen and served, in turn, as a minister, educator, statesman, and diplomat. Good­rich’s portrait presents such a life-like animation and immediacy of being that the viewer half believes he has stumbled into the artist’s studio unawares and encountered the great man in person, poised for friendly debate.

The clarity of Goodrich’s inner eye intensified over time. Her sharpened vision and sensibility are evident in the 1827 portrait of Mahala Dale Page (Fig. 8),23 particularly when it is seen next to the tentative likeness of Martha Frost (Fig. 7) executed a decade before, in 1817.24 Both young women are eighteen years old, but the later portrait achieves a lyrical richness absent from the unassuming earlier work. The darker, more assured hatched background is more visually enhancing than the lightly applied hatching where Miss Frost fades into the background. The later portrait has more light and shadows, including the shadow behind the drop earring and the distinct shadow or line delineating the contour of her face, whereas the earlier portrait suffers from a weak, diffuse light that casts very little shadow and washes out Miss Frost’s face. Close scrutiny reveals other telling differences. There is green underpaint on Page’s face, which highlights the skin tone, and more color in the cheeks, while Frost has only a hint of pink in the cheeks. Page’s mouth is full and sensual while Frost’s is thin and narrow. Goodrich deftly uses light to capture the expressive quality of Page’s eyes, while Frost’s gaze seems vacant and passive by comparison. And, similarly, the breasts in the earlier portrait appear heavy and without form while the sheen on Page’s dress gives the illusion that her breasts are trying to break free.

Goodrich’s art affirms that “passion is what one craves in art-and life.”25 She made palpable the places in her own heart through her miniatures and this is most especially true with Beauty Revealed (Fig. 13), the self-portrait of her bare breasts that she presented to her patron and intimate friend Daniel Webster in 1828, the year his first wife died. The forty-year-old Goodrich may well have conceived the idea for such an explicit self-portrait after seeing John Vanderlyn’s Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos, a full-length nude portrait of the mythological princess, which was exhibited to considerable public fanfare in Boston during the summer of 1826. Through the prism of desire, Beauty Revealed declares a sexual self that even today creates a frisson of erotic possibility. In his marvelous meditation “The Revealed and the Concealed,” John Updike reflected on the Goodrich-Webster relationship and offered his own poetic line on the luminous breasts: “Beautifully…framed by a continuous swathe of gauze, they float ownerless and glow like ghosts, or angels, in some transcendental realm whose dark atmosphere lurks in the corners.”26

Like all great art, the self-portrait offers a multiplicity of meanings and provokes inexhaustible speculation and reverie-it is for Goodrich both mask and mirror. The viewer, as voyeur, is invited to complete the narrative and author its meaning.

When Sarah Goodrich died from a stroke on December 28, 1853, there was no obituary in the Boston newspapers recounting the “translucent moments” of her long, illustrious career. Her true legacy resides in her portraits of those who in their time were “the loved, the honored and the lost.”27 Possessing a heart attuned to tenderness, Goodrich limned small miracles of illumination, transcendent reckonings of wistfulness and desire that go beyond mere biography. Her miniatures live on as silent messengers of human beauty, reanimating a vanished world.28           


RANDALL L. HOLTON writes and lectures on nineteenth-century American art.

CHARLES A. GILDAY is an independent scholar in the field of American portrait miniatures.

Interested in learning more?

Sarah Goodridge

How America found its face: Portrait miniatures in the New Republic

  1 Dale T. Johnson, American Portrait Miniatures in the Manney Collection (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1990), p. 125. The artist was first written about by Agnes M. Dods, “Sarah Goodridge,” The Magazine Antiques, vol. 51, no. 5 (May 1947), pp. 328-329. We use the starting date of 1815 because the earliest miniature by Goodrich known today, a watercolor on card of Jacob Gill Pierce (private collection), was painted that year.  2 Sarah used Goodrich and Goodridge interchangeably throughout her life, but the reasons for preferring Goodrich include the following: the portrait engravings of Hosea Ballou, Isaiah Thomas, Joseph Grafton, John Pierce, Dorothy Quincy, Gilbert Stuart, and Daniel Webster all identify “Goodrich” as the artist; Webster in his letters to her uses Goodrich; William Dunlap’s History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States (New York, 1834) lists the artist as Sarah Goodrich; legal instruments pertaining to her real estate transactions recite Goodrich; and most compelling, her will executed in 1852 (Middlesex County Probate Docket No. 32849), her burial record at Mount Auburn Cemetery, and published death notices all use Goodrich as her surname.  3 George C. Mason, The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart (New York, 1879), p. 79, quoting an account written for and sent to Mason by Goodrich’s sister Eliza Goodridge. Most of the previously known biographical details concerning Goodrich’s life are derived from that not-always-accurate account, which appears on pp. 78-81 of Mason’s book. 4 Biographical information on Bowditch can be found in Samuel K. Lothrop, Memoir of Nathaniel Ingersoll Bowditch (Boston, 1862).  5 The first scholar to identify Elkanah Tisdale as Goodrich’s teacher was Mona Leithiser Dearborn in Anson Dickinson, the Celebrated Miniature Painter, 1779-1852 (Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, 1983), p. 24.   6 MS30306, folder 26, Bull and Dodd Families Papers, Connecticut Historical Society Museum, Hartford.  7 Henry A. Goodrich, Church Organs: Some of the Early Builders in New England (Sentinel Printing Company, Fitchburg, Mass., 1902), p. 11. The authors wish to thank D. Peter McIntyre, formerly of the Organ Library, Boston Chapter, American Guild of Organists, for locating this pamphlet.   8 Jane Stuart, “Anecdotes of Gilbert Stuart,” Scribner’s Monthly, vol.14, no. 3 (July 1877), p. 379.  9 Eliza Goodridge in Mason, Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart, p. 80.  10 “Suicides” in The Complete Works of Guy de Maupassant: The Window and Short Stories, trans.  Alfred de Sumichrast and Adolphe Cohn (Leslie-Judge Co., New York, 1917), p. 118.  11 The year 1819 brought commissions that mark Goodrich’s early ascendancy and acceptance into the forefront of Boston miniaturists, including one from Daniel Webster of his infant daughter Julia and another from John Thornton Kirkland, the president of Harvard University.  12 Thomas Lindall Winthrop to his sister Jane Stuart, February 23, 1819, Winthrop Family Papers, 1537-1990, Massachusetts Historical Society, microfilm reel 21, box 38.  13 Mason, Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart, p. 80.  14 Newburyport, Massachusetts Daily Herald, May 4, 1842, quoted in Thomas M. Paine, Growing Paines: Paternal Patterns and Matrimonial Matters in a Family Boston Born and Bred (privately printed, Wellesley, Massachusetts, 1991), p. 343. The authors wish to thank Georgina’s great-great-great-nephew Thomas M. Paine for his gracious assistance.  15 Martha Appleton’s obituary, under her married name Martha H. A. Brown, appears in The Reading [Massachusetts] Chronicle, November 21, 1919.  16 William H. Clarke, “American Pioneer Organ Builders,” The Musician, February 1906, p. 92.  17 Ronald Story, The Forging of an Aristocracy: Harvard and the Boston Upper Class, 1800-1870 (Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Conn., 1980), p. 110.  18 Anne Hollingsworth Wharton, Heirlooms in Miniatures, 4th ed. (Philadelphia, 1898), p. xix; the portrait miniature of Caroline Perkins is pictured opp. p. 220.  19 Thomas Cushing, Historical Sketch of Chauncy-Hall School with Catalogue of Teachers and Pupils, and Appendix, 1828 to 1894 (Boston, 1895), pp. 147, 201. Boston Latin School Association, Materials for a Catalogue of the Masters and Scholars who have Belonged to the Public Latin School, Boston, Massachusetts, from 1635 to 1846 (Boston, 1847), p. 42. John William Linzee Sr., The History of Peter Parker and Sarah Ruggles of Roxbury, Mass. and Their Ancestors and Descendants (Fort Hill Press, Boston, 1913), p. 85.  20 New-York Tribune, September 6, 1841.  21 Van Wyck Brooks, The Flowering of New England 1815-1865 (Modern Library, New York, 1941), p. 75.  22 Quoted in Foster W. Russell, Mount Auburn Biographies (Murray Printing Company, Wakefield, Mass., 1953), p. 58.  23Mahala Dale married Samuel D. Page on September 23, 1827. Boston Marriages 1825-40, Massachusetts Vital Records, fiche 162, p. 304.  24 Martha Frost was the daughter of Walter and Martha (Tufts) Frost of Cambridge, and married George Horatio Kuhn on August 10, 1823.  25 Edward Hirsh, “Introduction,” Ploughshares at Emerson College, vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 2007), p. 8.  26 John Updike, “The Revealed and Concealed: An Extraordinary Love Token Holds the Key to America’s Ambivalent Relationship with the Nude,” Art and Antiques, vol. 15 (February 1993), p. 71. For further discussion of Goodrich’s self-portraits see Chris Packard, “Object Lessons: Self-Fashioning in Sarah Goodridge’s Self-Portraits,” Common-place, vol. 4, no. 1 (October 2003),  27 Edward Everett quoted in Mason, Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart, p. xii.  28 The authors are indebted to Jonathan T. Davis and Joan R. Brownstein for their invaluable contributions to this article.