Jonathan Adams Bartlett (1817–1902)

Portrait of Harriet, c. 1840

Oil on canvas, 28 1/4 x 23 13/16 in. (71.8 x 60.5 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1992.14

Jonathan Adams Bartlett spent most of his life in Maine, working as a farmer, carpenter, and self-taught portraitist. Portrait of Harriet presents the artist’s younger sister, Harriet Cushman Bartlett, dressed in an elegant black gown and seemingly interrupted while reading. She is seated by a table piled with volumes before a backdrop of columns, drapery, and a pastoral landscape. The awkward anatomy and perspective are characteristic of portraits by self-taught early-nineteenth-century artists, but with its elaborate background and provocative pose, Bartlett’s portrait suggests the sophisticated aspirations of painter and sitter alike. Little is known about Harriet, but this painting hints at her intellectual aspirations. In American portraiture, women reading books sometimes signals piety, but the abundance of reading matter in this portrait seems to confirm the subject’s interest in literature.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.