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March 3, 2013 10:00 AMCalender

Ammi Phillips (American, 1788-1865) Portrait of a Child in a Pink Dress Seated on a Red Cushion, with a Spaniel.

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Auction: American Furniture & Decorative Arts - 2640BLocation: BostonDate / Time: March 03, 2013 10:00AM


Ammi Phillips (American, 1788-1865)

Portrait of a Child in a Pink Dress Seated on a Red Cushion, with a Spaniel. Unsigned. Oil on canvas, 31 x 25 in., in original molded grain-painted wooden frame. Condition: Very minor scattered retouch.

Provenance: The collection of Dean Nelson, Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania, acquired by Peter Tillou from a collection in State College, Pennsylvania.

Literature: This portrait is illustrated and commented on in the Hudson Valley Regional Review, September, 1987, Volume 4, Number 2, in an article titled "Ammi Phillips's Portraits with Animals," by Leigh Rehner Jones and Shirley A. Mearns. They write: "Nineteen of the surviving portraits by Ammi Phillips depict animals, and these are some of the most appealing works by the Connecticut-born artist." The work is illustrated on p. 74.

Exhibitions: The Folk Art Museum, New York, and Williams Benson Museum, Storrs, Connecticut.

Note: Painted during the Kent period in folk portraitist Ammi Phillips' celebrated career, the portrait of a young boy in a pink dress with a spaniel displays the clarity of arrangement, style, and color for which Phillips is best known. This particular composition will be familiar to scholars and collectors, who have codified it in the informally named "red dress group," a number of portraits that Phillips painted during the 1830s of young children in red dresses with pets. Most of his subjects in that group are seated on the sort of fringed footstool on which this child perches, and while others wear coral beads, this sitter grasps a coral teething ring. In early America, coral of any sort was thought to hold protective properties and was often associated with the material culture of childhood. In this case, it also confirms the relative wealth and status of the sitter's family, as such a ring would have been expensive and rather extravagant. Beyond representing parental concern and generosity, the perfectly round coral ring here serves to center the geometry of Phillips' composition. It anchors a right triangle formed with the boy's eyes and the dog's eyes, as well as an inverted triangle formed by the bodice lines of the boy's dress and the horizontal line of his shoulders. Phillips distills his subject here into a series of discrete shapes and fields of color, deepening from the salmon pink dress to the red footstool to the dark red pattern on the carpet and reddish-brown of the spaniel's coat. Within this simplicity, though, Phillips includes a level of detail that is stunning. The embroidery of the dress is particularly fine and echoes textile details that Phillips includes in many of his portraits. Hints of the ingrain carpet pattern peek out from behind the spaniel's tail and beneath the boy's dress. With strong composition, bold color, and intricate detail, this childhood portrait stands among the finest of Ammi Phillips' career.
Estimate $200,000-300,000

Very minor retouch: a few scattered, pepper flake size specks on child's upper lip, nose, under lower lip, chest and dress bodice; several small specks around dog's head, and a few small scattered spots to background, a few small spots near l.l. edge and u.r. edge.

The absence of a condition statement does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition or completely free from wear and tear, imperfections or the effects of aging. Condition requests can be obtained via email (lot inquiry button) or by telephone to the appropriate gallery location (Boston/617.350.5400 or Marlborough/508.970.3000). Any condition statement given, as a courtesy to a client, is only an opinion and should not be treated as a statement of fact. Skinner Inc. shall have no responsibility for any error or omission.


Pennsylvania, State College, Peter Tillou, Connecticut, Shirley A. Mearns, Leigh Rehner Jones, Connecticut-born artist, Williams Benson Museum, Storrs, Folk Art Museum