Mrs. Richard Patteshall (Martha Woody) and Child

Attributed to Thomas Smith (American, about 1650–1691)


113.66 x 90.8 cm (44 3/4 x 35 3/4 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

On View

17th-Century New England: Brown-Pearl Hall Gallery (Gallery LG35)





Among the earliest depictions of a mother and child surviving from colonial New England, Mrs. Richard Patteshall (Martha Woody) and Child illustrates the influence of Dutch and Flemish painting on portraits executed in Boston during the last quarter of the seventeenth century. Consistent with those European standards of realism, the figures of Mrs. Patteshall and her young daughter suggest the illusion of bulk and depth and the integration of parts. This approach differs radically from the Elizabethan focus on surface patterns, texture, and detail seen in the portraits of Margaret [1995.800] and Robert Gibbs [69.1227] by the Freake-Gibbs painter.

Martha Woody Patteshall (1651–1713) was the daughter of Richard Woody, soap boiler of Plymouth and later a resident of Boston. Around 1672 she became the second wife of Captain Richard Patteshall, who had emigrated from England in 1664; the couple had five children. Captain Patteshall engaged in fishing and trading at Casco Bay and Pemaquid, Maine, serving around 1682 as a justice of the peace in that area. A pioneer in settling this frontier region, Richard Patteshall was killed in 1689 during an Indian attack. Martha, who remained in Boston, lived until 1713. She was interred in the King’s Chapel Burying Ground, an event recorded in the diaries of Judge Samuel Sewall [58.358], who served as one of her pallbearers. Among the descendants of the Patteshall family is Paul Revere; Martha was the patriot’s maternal great-grandmother.

Mrs. Patteshall’s clothing reflects her prominent standing in Boston society and an awareness of contemporary English court style. The black Spanish lace found on her sleeve, for example, came into fashion among European courts only after the marriage of Louis XIV and the Infanta Maria Teresa of Spain in 1660. The peach in Mrs. Patteshall’s right hand was a common symbol during the period for the virtues of silence and of a righteous heart and tongue.

Because Mrs. Patteshall so closely resembles Major Thomas Savage [1983.35](dated 1679) in technique and design, the painting was likely done in Boston by the same hand, at roughly the same time. Like Major Savage, Mrs. Patteshall is executed on a red ground. In both paintings, the artist applied the paint thinly and without clearly defined brushstrokes. Both subjects wear lace collars of nearly identical pattern and rendering. The proportions of each sitter’s face are also the same. The presence of lead-tin yellow in Mrs. Patteshall’s peach is repeated in the gold on Savage’s sword belt and coat of arms. This pigment was known and widely used in European painting during the Renaissance and up through the seventeenth century, an indication of continuity between painting in the Old World and New World.

The artist’s emphasis on tactile form is evident in Mrs. Patteshall’s pear-shaped earring and pearl necklace and in the baby’s face, where subtle modeling and careful highlighting create the illusion of roundness. Similarly, the child’s apron and dress fall in convincing folds from her waist. In focusing on the three-dimensional effects of light and shadow, the painter played down his drawing skills and thus some details, like the child’s arms and wrists, are somewhat stiff and awkward.

Assuming the painting was indeed produced around 1679, the child could be either Ann, born in 1678, or Frances, born a year later in 1679. Because the portrait descended through the family of Ann Patteshall’s grandson, Joshua (1751–1821), it is most likely that it is baby Ann that appears on her mother’s knee. The portrait probably passed from Ann Patteshall to her son William Thomas (b. 1718), thence to Joshua and his wife Isabella Stevenson; it remained in the family until given to the MFA in 1994. A pendant portrait of Captain Patteshall, probably also painted by the Savage artist, exists in a private collection. It was badly damaged and the face was heavily repainted during the nineteenth or twentieth century; only fragments of the original artist’s work, evident in the hands and clothing, survive.

This text was adapted and expanded by Cody Hartley from Jonathan L. Fairbanks and Robert F. Trent, New England Begins: The Seventeenth Century, vol. 3, exh. cat. (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1982).


Probably by descent to William Thomas (b. 1718), son of Ann Patteshall; by inheritance to his son, Joshua Thomas (1751-1821) and his wife, Isabella Stevenson; to Hannah E. Stevenson, a relative of Isabella Stevenson; descended in the Stevenson family to Harriet Sumner Curtis; by 1934, by inheritance to Isabella Curtis Halsted, Cambridge, Mass.; 1994, gift of Isabella Halsted to the MFA. (Accession Date: October 26, 1994)

Credit Line

Gift of Isabella Halsted