Jeremiah Theus (American, 17161774)
Watercolor on ivory; 1 3/8 x 1 1/4 in. (3.5 x 3.2 cm)
Purchase, Bequest of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, by exchange, 1997 (1997.340)
Backed with mother-of-pearl and set in a bracelet case, to which a plaited hairwork wristband would be added to be worn, Theus's tiny portrait of Mrs. Motte is one of the earliest known American examples of the use of watercolor on ivory. Theus painted several works for the Mottes of Charleston, South Carolina, and still more of their extended family. Mrs. Motte's dress and hairstyle date the piece to the 1750s, but there is some question of her identity. According to family history, she is Elizabeth Martin (17101757), who married the Honorable Jacob Motte in 1725. If it is her, she would have been in her late forties, painted close to the year of her death. The sitter might more likely be Rebecca Brewton, who could have been painted when in her early twenties, upon her marriage to Jacob Motte, Jr., in 1758. Theus also painted Jacob Jr. in miniature (now lost).