Deborah Goldsmith
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  • Deborah Goldsmith (1808–1836)
  • Sangerfield, New York
  • c. 1823–1824
  • Watercolor and pencil on paper
  • 9 x 8 3/4 in.
  • American Folk Art Museum, gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2013.1.9
  • Deborah Goldsmith is one of a few early-nineteenth-century women documented as painting professionally, and her watercolors offer an affectionate glimpse into the lives of the farmers and artisans of rural upstate New York. It is thought that Goldsmith knew the people she portrayed, and this is supported by her delicate watercolor portraits that provide an intimate look at the faces of the region. This family portrait was probably painted within a year or so of the birth of daughter Cornelia to Lyman and Maria Preston Day. It indicates that Goldsmith was attempting complex compositions at the young age of 15 or 16 and was already traveling from her home in Brookfield, New York, to paint portrait commissions. It also demonstrates her early interest in interior details and here provides a glimpse of the highly patterned but sparsely furnished Day home in the farming community of Sangerfield. Her only other known interior scene, The Talcott Family, was painted almost ten years later and shows greater maturity in technique and composition. Yet the observant eye that carefully captured the decorative and emotional trappings of the Talcott home is already evident in this self-contained family scene and in details, such as the titled columns in the newspaper Mr. Day holds.

    Goldsmith’s family migrated from Guilford, Connecticut, to Brookfield between 1805 and 1808. She spent much of her adolescence in the more cultured environment of Hamilton, at the home of her sister and brother-in-law Sanford Boon, a silversmith. She was a devout Baptist, and her correspondence with her fiancé, a Universalist, illuminates their struggle in resolving their different religious beliefs. Goldsmith married George Throop in 1832 and died just a few years later, in 1836, after having had a premonition of her own death. In addition to portraits of family, friends, and neighbors, she left behind two friendship albums started in 1826 and 1829 that were preserved by her descendants along with her box of paints. These are filled with a collection of poems and sentiments contributed by friends and culled from literary compendiums such as The Reader and The Token.
  • Photo courtesy Sotheby’s, New York