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Object Details

Maker
John Parker (British, b. 1745)
Date
1795
Geography
Netherlands: The Hague
Culture
British; Dutch
Medium
watercolor on ivory, in its gilded case
Dimensions
Overall: 2 1/8 in x 1 13/16 in; 5.3975 cm x 4.60375 cm
Provenance
John Quincy Adams (1767-1848); to his mother, Abigail Adams (d. 1818); to his son, John Adams (d. 1834); to Mary Catherine Hellen Adams (d. 1870), his widow; to her granddaughter, Mary Adams Johnson (later Mrs. Charles Andrews Doolittle), 1870; to her son, Ebenezer Brown Sherman Doolittle; to his daughter, Lois Doolittle (Mrs. Carpenter Inches); to Max Webber, Inc., Middleton, Massachusetts; to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase
Inscriptions
On the reverse of the gold case, interlaced monogram "JQA."
Credit Line
Funds donated by Mrs. Charles S. Payson
Collection
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number
RR-1967.0070

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Object Essay

This portrait, which lacks the customary reticence of so many miniatures of the period, is neatly balanced between the ideal Enlightenment image of man (with the “smile of reason”) and the Romantic image buoyant with character and edged with daring.        

All that is known of “Parker” is contained in an 1843 listing by Adams of the portraits of himself that he considered best. “A miniature, in a bracelet for my mother, painted at the Hague in 1795 by an Englishman named Parker, now in the possession of my Son John’s widow.”1 In Adams’s Diary, August 15, 1843 (quoted in Oliver, 32). It also appears as the second entry in a list of thirty-four life portraits of Adams that he drew up on April 20, 1839. This list is incomplete and sometimes inaccurate—the Ramage miniature (see Acc. No. 71.136) is not listed. See Oliver, 1–3. Adams’s brother, Thomas, had met the artist while skating in the Hague in February of that year. Since their mother had been pressing for miniature portraits of her absent sons, Thomas introduced his brother to Parker, who painted them both in April. From Thomas’s diary we know that Parker was from Birmingham and that his portraits tended to flatter the sitter. Unfortunately, his first name is never mentioned.2Ibid., 28–29.

Despite Parker’s supposed “talent of making handsome portraits when the original is not so,” and the customary image of the older Adams as stern and unsmiling, the miniature is not untrue. It is, in fact, an almost perfect match with the elegant, oval, bust-length portrait of Adams that John Singleton Copley painted in London just one year later and sent by the artist to Abigail Adams as a gift (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). When she received the Copley, she wrote to her son of the “striking resemblance,” adding that “what renders it peculiarly valuable to me is the expression, the animation, the true Character which gives it so pleasing a likeness.”3Ibid., 38 and 39, fig. 11. The same description applies to the Parker. The “animation,” even ardor, of the young Adams gave way to the cool courtesy of the mature man. Adams at sixty-six wrote of the transformation:

A warm heart I once had, and my manners were not then cold, nor had I then been sixty years cribbed in the thrilling regions of thick ribbed ice which encase a heartless world . . . My manners and my heart grew cold together, because I found that warmheartedness was a waste of good seed in thankless soil.4Ibid., 6.

William Kloss

Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.