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January 6, 2012

Colonial Williamsburg Acquires Important Folk Art Portrait of Virginia Family

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has acquired an important folk art portrait of a Virginia family. The early 19th-century work depicts 11 family members —multiple generations — and is still surrounded by its original frame.

According to family tradition, the portrait was painted by the family patriarch, Capt. James Smith (1762-1818), a Scottish sea captain and merchant who settled in Dumfries, Prince William County, in 1790. He and his family lived on a 600-acre estate called Cedar Grove until an economic decline in the town’s shipping industry prompted Smith to declare bankruptcy and relocate to Richmond. In the fall of 1806, he opened a mercantile store there, later establishing a bakery and entering into other business ventures. Smith’s family joined him in spring 1807 and it is thought that the portrait was painted around the time of this reunion.

The painting of the Smiths is a celebration of family, honoring matriarch Rachel King Smith, who is portrayed at the center of the portrait. The importance of her role is reinforced by the gaze and posturing of family members—most of whom appear in profile—surrounding the edge of the canvas. Likenesses of Rachel’s mother and grandparents are also included in the portrait acknowledging the strong ties between generations.

“We are thrilled that this painting is now in the Colonial Williamsburg collection,” said Laura Pass Barry, associate curator of prints, maps and paintings. “It is a wonderful family document, steeped in local Virginia history. It is the perfect fit to our museum holdings and will be treasured among our southern paintings.”

The Smith Family Portrait descended through the family until its acquisition by Colonial Williamsburg and provides an important link between the foundation’s collections in folk art and academic paintings.

Current plans include the Smith Family Portrait in a new exhibition of American folk art portraits opening in September 2012 at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg include the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, with more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum exhibits the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670–1830.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are located at the intersection of Francis and South Henry Streets in Williamsburg, Va., and are entered through the Public Hospital of 1773. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For museum program information, telephone (757) 220-7724.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural organization that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281