Category: Research Notes

I have looked at hundreds of colonial portraits, and the most intriguing figure that I have seen is unnamed, barely visible, only about five inches tall, and whose face is largely obscured. This figure is an African groom—who I can now argue is the first known representation of a person of African descent in a British North American painting.

This research note reflects on the ways in which portraits function as complex indicators of racial, cultural, and regional identities and histories. It argues that the flexibility of meaning for such paintings lies not only with the artist and the sitter, but is equally shaped by audiences and historians.

In finding out more information about Banks’s life, might I somehow redress the bodily and archival violence that rendered her an unnamed figure in a museum display? Moreover, how could I tell Banks’s story—or, a story of racialized violence—without committing further violence in my own act of narration?

The existence of these drawings among O’Keeffe’s papers raises a number of questions: first, why did [architect Peter van der Meulen] Smith create them in the first place? Second, how did they come to be in O’Keeffe’s possession? And third, did the drawings influence [Maria] Chabot’s design for the separate studio building at Abiquiu?

While organizing the 2017 permanent collection reinstallation at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Mythmaking and Truth-Telling: American and Regional Art, I made discoveries in the artist’s papers at the Archives of American Art that allow us to precisely date Miss Maude Adams, as “L’Aiglon” and to better contextualize the painting within the intellectual milieu of its creation.