George Mason Law School

Colonial Williamsburg buys rare Lee portrait of slave girl

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April 10, 2007

12:28 PM

Colonial Williamsburg has purchased a rare painting of a slave girl by Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, the wife of Robert E. lee, painted in 1830.

p. The painting depicts a black slave girl in a red dress with a white apron, holding a wooden tub on her head. It will likely be stored in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, Barbara Luck, curator of paintings, drawings and sculptures for Colonial Williamsburg, said.

p. “We’re accessioning it, but it will get out soon,” Luck said.
Colonial Williamsburg acquired the painting from the Alexander Gallery in New York, who put out a full-page color advertisement in March to sell it. They also displayed it at an antiques show in January.

p. “A lot of people in Virginia are probably already familiar with it partly through the gallery and the antiques show, so I’m sure some people from Virginia will come to see it,” Luck said.

p. Though the picture is only four inches wide and five-and-three-fourths inches high, it was offered for $400,000 in January. The gallery and Colonial Williamsburg have both declined to reveal the price Colonial Williamsburg paid in the end, according to the Associated Press.

p. The girl in the painting is believed to be one of the slaves on Lee’s plantation, the Arlington House, which later became Arlington National Cemetery. The artist’s signature appears on the girl’s apron in the picture, but it reads “Mary Anna Randolph Custis” as the portrait was done one year before her marriage to Lee in 1831.

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