MESDA recently acquired this small profile portrait of a young woman, made by the traveling Swiss artist, David Boudon, in Kentucky. Trained as an engraver in Switzerland, he used his skills to draw his sitters in silverpoint and watercolor on paper, emulating the more expensive watercolor on ivory miniatures with cheaper, and faster, techniques. The wide availability of these materials, as well as the small and portable kit required to make the likenesses, allowed Boudon to travel extensively throughout the South to follow demand for the small portraits.
Until this profile portrait dated February 15, 1817 was rediscovered, Boudon’s last known picture was made in 1816 in Chillicothe, Ohio. We can now extend the artist’s oeuvre by a year and trace him all the way from Charleston through Virginia and Maryland to and finally to Kentucky and Ohio!
Although we don’t know who this portrait depicts, it is possible that she was a member of the Custer family. She is depicted with white skin and pink blushed cheeks, her hair pinned up, wearing a blue dress with a white collar and a white raised fichu. The portrait is set in a gilt wood frame with eglomise mat that suggests it was likely intended to be hung on the walls of someone’s home: perhaps that of the sitter or a member of her family.
After 1817, at nearly seventy years of age, Boudon disappears from the public record. Perhaps this portrait was one of the last profiles he made!
If you want to learn more about this interesting portrait, join our Summer Institute Final Presentation on July 22nd!
Portrait of a Member of Custer Family
David Boudon (1748-c.1817)
Silverpoint and watercolor on wove paper
Possibly in its original wood and verre églomisé frame
Nancy C. James Purchase Fund
By Damiët Schneeweisz, William C. and Susan S. Mariner Decorative Arts Trust Fellow, 2022 MESDA Summer Institute