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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

American, born Scotland, 1688 - 1751
Portrait of Samuel Pemberton
Oil on canvas

30 1/8 x 25 1/2 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Bayou Bend Collection
Gift of Miss Ima Hogg

Arts of North America

Among the liveliest paintings in the Bayou Bend Collection is this distinguished portrait of an 11-year-old boy from Boston. Samuel Pemberton belonged to a wealthy family that made its fortune in real estate and the merchant trade. He graduated from Harvard and explored the ministry before taking over his father's business. Later, he entered public life as a justice of the peace and became a prominent member of the political group the Sons of Liberty.  

Painted by the first major art celebrity in the American colonies, Scottish-born John Smibert, this portrait portrays its subject as a bewigged gentleman in a soft gray suit, proudly erect with an alert expression on his face, his large eyes enhanced by exquisitely rendered eyelashes. A great deal of attention and care has been lavished on painting the ruffle, the braid and buttons of the coat and vest, and the graceful swirls of the wig. Despite the formulaic composition, this portrait has considerable charm and verve, whereas Smibert's later portraits of Samuel's sisters Hannah (in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Mary (in the Bayou Bend Collection) are less appealing. The three portraits likely hung as a unit, with Samuel at center.