Abigail Adams wearing white bonnet and white and red dress, holding a folded piece of paper and looking out a window

Abigail Adams

Some commissions seemingly emerge from no-where, but really take root when one is looking elsewhere.  Many years ago our son’s babysitter, was studying at Boston College, and we were so much a part of each other’s lives that we forged a strong friendship.  When she graduated, she said, she’d be back when she could afford to commission a painting.  And a few decades later she did: not a portrait of herself and kids, but of one of her heroes, Abigail Adams. 

Since there were no photos in the 18th century, we relied on artistic renderings. We visited their first home in Quincy, so we could imagine her there.  We found a model that seemingly resembled her as a young woman, when John and she were writing their famous letters to one another. We commissioned historic seamstresses to make an outfit like the one she would have worn.  We portrayed her reading one of John’s letters at home. 

I have often joked: there is nothing more artificial than naturalism.

In the process of constructing the image, we had to understand each element that contributed to making it seem as if Abigail was at home reading John’s letter.  In doing that we were able to answer our own questions each history project raises:  Who is the subject?  How to understand and present in a pivotal moment?

Abigail Adams is a painting made from love for our friend of many years, who admired her so, that she commissioned a portrait of her, to hang in the home she was building with her husband, for their family in Australia. 

What an incredible commission, so many seemingly disconnected dots connecting.

Galleries: Historical Portraits, Naturalism