Phoebe Drake

about 1815
Attributed to Abraham Tuthill (American, 1776–1843)


122.4 x 91.5 cm (48 3/16 x 36 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

On View

Lurie-Marks Gallery (Gallery 138)





Abraham Tuthill was born on Long Island, New York. His first portraits, painted when he was twenty-two, were awkward and primitive. Determined to improve his technique, Tuthill went first to New York City and then to London, where he acquired some rudimentary skills during a period of study with the distinguished artist Benjamin West. He subsequently spent some thirty-five years (between 1808 and 1843) traveling through upstate New York painting portraits that-like this one-are a mixture of the sophisticated and the naive.
Almost nothing is known about Phoebe Drake, the charming subject of this portrait, though her clothing and the handsome furnishings of the room in which she is posed suggest her family was well-to-do. She wears gold earrings, a hairdo of tightly wound curls, and bright red shoes that peek out from beneath her French-style dress, all the height of fashion. To remind us that she is a child, not a grown woman-or perhaps because the artist was not so skilled at drawing objects to scale-she stands next to a cloth-covered table that is nearly as tall as she is. As Tuthill painted her, Phoebe’s arms are unnaturally long; her dress, strongly outlined, seems almost two-dimensional; her facial features are stylized. But despite the artist’s provincial painting style, by showing Phoebe with a frank and direct gaze, he creates the impression of an appealing, spunky child.

This text was adapted from Carol Troyen and Janet Comey, “Children in American Art” (Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 2007, in Japanese).


The artist; Mrs. Fannie Currier; to Nancy Currier, her granddaughter, Chestnut Hill, Mass., about 1959-1961; to Maxim Karolik, Newport, R.I., 1961; to MFA, 1964, bequest of Maxim Karolik.

Credit Line

Bequest of Maxim Karolik