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Franklin Children

Artist: Washington B. Cooper, Nashville, Tennessee (1802-1888)
Year: 1845
Medium: Oil on canvas
Frame Original
Size: Height - 50", Width - 20"
1993.06.01 EL The Mr. & Mrs. Franck H. Kaiser, Sr. Collection

Isaac Franklin and his wife Adelicia Hayes Franklin commissioned Washington Bogart Cooper to paint this portrait of their three daughters—Adelicia, age 4, on the left, Emma, 2, in the center and Victoria, 6, on the right—for two hundred dollars. [1] The girls are rendered in a way that showcases their innocence and predetermined path to virtuous womanhood. The matching white muslin dresses with Ayrshire embroidery convey that the girls are pure and unblemished, while also indicating the genteel values being ingrained in their impressionable minds. The muslin for these dresses was imported from either Europe or the Middle East, which was costly in itself, but the hand-embroidered detail transformed these gowns into symbols of social preeminence, plainly exhibiting Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Franklin’s economic affluence.

Both Victoria and Adelicia are looking in the same direction feigning passive, toothless smiles, as instructed. Emma however is showing a full smile or laughing, waving and looking the opposite way, too young to obey direction. This depiction signifies the urbane conservative ideology that these girls are perpetually bound to as products of high-class society in the 19th century. [2] In terms of traditions of the era, merging styles of past movements was very distinctive of Victorian adornment. The seat upon which baby Emma sits combines two historical styles. There is clear French Rococo Revival influence in the “C” curve of the stool’s mahogany leg, while the red fabric for the cushion, also for the curtain in the background, has clear Classical Baroque influence. [3] In accordance with the high child mortality rate of the time, Adelicia and Victoria died three days apart in 1846 shortly after this portrait was completed. Emma died in 1855 at age 11.

Conservation on this painting made possible by the Acklen Society.
[1] Betts, A. M. (1987, November 25). From farm came ‘man of portraits’. The Tennessean, p. 9.

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