Elizabeth Clarke Freake (Mrs. John Freake) and Baby Mary, about 1671 and 1674
The pinkish brick-red ground layer appears to have been applied by the artist. It is moderately thick and somewhat uneven. In general, the paint was thinly applied except in the whites and the light colors, where it was more thickly built up. The painting has an extensive network of aging and drying cracks throughout. The darks and midtones have darkened considerably, heightening the contrast between the lighter passages and the rest of the painting. Pigment analysis conducted at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1981 suggests that the colors include lead-tin yellow, lead white, red lead, earth colors (including umber and terre verte), vermillion, and chalk or gypsum.
The artist made an effort to render precise details in the woman's costume and in her chair. Major pentimenti are visible throughout the painting. X-radiographs reveal significant changesthe repositioning of the position of the hands, the redefinition of the clothing, and the addition of the infant.
In the past, wax-resin consolidant was used to stabilize cracking and cupping. Abrasions and scattered losses occur throughout the painting, but there are no major losses. The current surface coating probably consists of a synthetic varnish that was applied over an older coating of PVA. The surface is somewhat matte but not significantly discolored.
The frame that was removed is ornately carved with fruit, vines, flowers, and leaves. Though the surface is badly worn, it appears that it was originally silver gilt and perhaps painted in the low areas of relief around the fruit; the silver gilding is considerably tarnished. The frame is made of eastern white pine, a species of wood that is native to North America but not Europe.2 Although wood was exported to Europe from New England in the seventeenth century, the wood type suggests that the frame could have been made in Boston.
Responding to photographs of the carved Freake frame, one scholar of English frames, Jacob Simon, writes, "The pattern seems to me to be late 17th century in form but it is of course possible that the frame is a late 19th century copy."3 If the carved frame is original to Elizabeth Clarke Freake (Mrs. John Freake) and Baby Mary, it would be unusual for a seventeenth-century American painting. Jonathan Fairbanks, the organizer of the 1982 exhibition, states that "it was not the general practice in seventeenth century New England to frame portraits in gilded or gold leafed frames. That was a custom current in the eighteenth rather than the seventeenth centuries."4
The Freake portraits were apparently in gilt frames by the end of the eighteenth century, when they were recorded in a descendant's probate inventory as "Two large fraimed Gilt [pictures] with likeness's on them" valued at ten and fifteen dollars. Presumably the larger amount was given to the double portrait.5 Further study is required to determine whether the painting should remain in its current reproduction frame or be placed back into the ornate, carved, silver gilt one.
2. Wood identification is based on a scientific analysis of the cell structure by dendrologist R. Bruce Hoadley, January 5, 2000.
3. Jacob Simon to Laura K. Mills, August 25, 1999, object file, Worcester Art Museum. The frames are similar to the contemporary example that is illustrated in Simon 1996, 211, fig. 184.
4. Jonathan L. Fairbanks, Katharine L. Weems Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to Anne Popadic, curatorial intern, Worcester Art Museum, April 23, 1999, object file, Worcester Art Museum.
5. Probate inventory for the estate of Josiah Wolcott, filed April 20, 1797, Worcester County Probate.