Ammi Phillips (1788–1865)

Girl in a Red Dress, c. 1835

Oil on canvas, 32 3/8 x 27 3/8 in. (82.2 x 69.5 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1992.57

A primarily self-taught artist, Ammi Phillips was one of many itinerant painters who created portraits for members of America’s growing provincial middle classes in the early and mid-nineteenth century. Likely painted in Connecticut or New York, Girl in a Red Dress is one of five portraits of children wearing the same distinctive frock. Phillips captured the unidentified young sitter in a formal pose, holding a strawberry-plant sprig in one hand and a single ripe berry in the other. Following the tendencies of high style portraiture, early nineteenth-century American portraits also frequently included symbolic objects: here the recumbent dog represents fidelity of character, and strawberries symbolize youthful vitality. In an era when both young boys and girls wore dresses, the coral necklace identifies the wearer as female. Portraits of children such as this one were especially popular at the time as statements of families’ prosperity, social status, and future aspiration.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.