Collections › MESDA Collection › Elizabeth (Christian) Humber

Elizabeth (Christian) Humber

The Payne Limner
Place Made:
Goochland County Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
Canvas: HOA: 28-3/4″; WOA: 25-5/8″; Framed: HOA: 34-1/4″; WOA: 31-1/4″; DOA: 3″
Accession Number:
SITTER: Elizabeth (Christian) Humber (c. 1740-1835) was born around 1740 in Goochland County, Virginia, to Charles and Mary (Leake) Christian. On March 30, 1757, in St. Paul’s Parish, Elizabeth married John Humber (1734-1806), a successful middling planter, and, according to the family bible, they had twelve children. The Humbers lived at Air Hill Plantation, which Elizabeth managed for almost thirty years after her husband’s death in 1806.

ARTIST: The Payne Limner is an unidentified artist who worked in Richmond and the surrounding counties of Henrico, Hanover, and Goochland in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. With the addition of the five Seabrook family portraits, approximately 18 of his works are now known. His identity derives from the ten surviving portraits of the Payne family, which were completed in Goochland County around 1791. None of these works bears a signature or date, and the attributions are based on the strong stylistic similarities among the various portraits. Many of them display a knowledge of 18th-century British conventions with the inclusion of personal attirbutes for each sitter, such as animals, flowers for girls, and hunting equipment for boys. Ship captain Nicholas Brown Seabrook was painted holding a telescope and pointing to a chart with a ship in the background, while planter Archer Payne was depicted standing beside a plow with a large sheaf of wheat immediately behind him. His triple portrait of two Payne brothers with their nurse is one of the few 18th-century American portraits with the full length image of an enslaved African American person. The Payne Limner’s portraits provide an excellent window into the life and society of late 18th-century Virginia.

Examples of the Payne Limner’s works can be seen in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg, the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, the Virginia Museum of Culture and History, the James Madison Museum, and MESDA.

DESCRIPTION: Painting, oil on canvas, half-length portrait of an older woman holding a book and wearing a black dress with a white apron, kerchief, and cap.

The portrait descended directly in the Humber family from Elizabeth (Christian) Humber to her son William Humber (1778-1825), to his son Oliver Perry Humber (1813-1891), to his son William Hodgson Humber (1844-1914), to recent family owners. According to family tradition, it was originally part of a pair that included a companion portrait of Elizabeth Christian’s husband, John Humber (1735-1806) of Air Hill Plantation.
Credit Line:
Nancy C. James MESDA Purchase Fund