Anne (Theus) Lee
Compared to MESDA’s portrait of Sarah Proctor (Daniell) Wilson (1728-1801) (MESDA acc. 2024.52), this portrait of his daughter shows a softer side of the usually rigid Theus style. The treatment of the fabric, meticulously executed, has a feeling of lightness not evidenced in the Wilson portrait. This relaxation is seen in certain of the late Theus portraits. One wonders if the fact that he was painting his own daughter had an impact on his style in this work.
ARTIST: Jeremiah Theus (1716-1774) was born in Switzerland and immigrated to South Carolina with his family came to South Carolina when he was nineteen. His father, Simon Theus received a land grant for 250 acres on the Edisto River in Orangeburg, South Carolina.
Jeremiah Theus was in Charleston and working as an artist by 1740 when he placed an advertisement in the South Carolina Gazette. He wrote that “all Gentlemen and Ladies may have their Pictures drawn, likewise Landskips of all sizes, Crests and Coats of Arms for Coaches and Chaises. Likewise for the Conveniency of those who live in the Country, he is willing to wait on them at their respective Plantations.” Over the next three decades Theus would establish himself as the painter of choice for the Lowcountry elite. It is estimated that more than 170 portraits by Theus survive.
Like most eighteenth-century artists, Theus sometimes relied on English mezzotints to inspire the poses and costume of his sitters. There are a number of works, for example, that use a variation of the dress worn by Maria the Countess of Coventry in a mezzotint by Richard Houston after a painting by Francis Cotes. An example of this print is in the National Portrait Gallery of the United Kingdom. (NPG UK acc. D34175). However, these same mezzotints were also an important mechanism by which London fashion of was transmitted to Charleston. The refinement of dress and pose in Theus’s sitters was a reflection of their status in the larger 18th century material world.
FRAME: Original mahogany architectural frame, with crossetted corners and cypress backing. The crossetted or plain corner mahogany frames are attributed to the cabinetmaker Thomas Elfe, who is known to have made frames for Theus.
RELATED WORKS: MESDA has an imported British clock sold by Ann Theus Lee’s husband William (MESDA acc. 950.11).
MESDA has five portraits by Theus: Sarah Proctor (Daniell) Willson (MESDA acc. 2024.52); Elias Ball III (MESDA acc. 2739); Humphrey Sommers” (MESDA acc. 3974); Hannah Dart” (MESDA acc. 4087); and Ann (Theus) Lee, the artist’s daughter (MESDA acc. 1179).
REFERENCES: Margaret Simons Middleton, “Jeremiah Theus: Colonial Artist of Charles Town” (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1991)
Carolyn J. Weekley, “Painters and Paintings of the Early American South” (Williamsburg, Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg and the Yale University Press, 2013)
DESCRIPTION: Bust portrait, oil on canvas, of woman wearing a pearl necklace and blue dress with lace trim, in mahogany architectural frame with cut-out corners.