Mary Roberts (English, active United States, died 1761)
Watercolor on ivory
Each 1 1/2 x 1 in. (3.8 x 2.5 cm)
Each signed: MR (the artist's monogram)
Purchase, Dale T. Johnson Fund and Jan and Warren Adelson Gift, 2007 (2007.61–.65)
The English émigré Mary Roberts was the first known miniaturist in the American colonies. She arrived in Charleston before 1735 with her husband, Bishop, and after his death in 1740 seems to have supported herself by her work. Although Roberts is thought to have been prolific, her works are rare, as most have gone unrecorded. The Museum's group of five miniatures nearly doubles her extant oeuvre. Roberts worked in a diminutive format, and her extremely small and detailed work betrays her English training.
These miniatures, which date from the early 1750s and retain their original gold cases, portray a group of cousins, the children of brothers William (1710–1775) and Henry (1717–1784) Middleton. The figures sit high in the tiny picture plane. The two girls, Henrietta (1750–1792) and Hester (1754–1789), and the youngest boy, Thomas (1753–1779), wear white gowns; the two eldest boys, William (1748–1774) and William (1752–1758), wear rich red suits embellished with touches of gold and silver. Henry and his family lived primarily at Middleton Place, their plantation home in Charleston, South Carolina, while William resided at Crowfield and Shrublands, the family estates in Suffolk, England. The miniatures were discovered at Shrublands, the contents of which were sold in 2006.