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Sophia Fraser

Fraser, Charles
Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
watercolor on ivory –brass
HOA 3-5/8″; WOA 2-7/8″
Accession Number:
SITTER: This is portrait of Sophia Fraser (b.1799) by her uncle, the Charleston artist Charles Fraser (1782-1860) of his niece. Born in 1799, Sophia was the daughter of William Fraser (1760-1814) and his wife, Sophia Miles. Sophia Fraser married Jacob Warley (b. 1792), the son of Colonel Felix and Ann Turquand Warley, on December 18, 1815. In his will, written in 1855, Charles Fraser bequeathed, “to my Niece Mrs. Sophia Warley Two thousand Dollars and if she be dead then I give the same to be equally divided between her daughters.”

According to records from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (from whom this miniature was obtained), the hairstyle and costume in this portrait both indicate a circa 1815 date. The hairstyle, with its middle part, upswept bun, and soft curls near the ears, is typical of the time as is the white dress, with its low neckline, small ruffle around the back of the neck, and empire waist.

ARTIST: Charles Fraser (1782-1860) was born in Charleston, South Carolina. He was the fourteenth and last child born to Alexander Fraser and Mary (Grimke) Fraser. At the age of sixteen he followed his family’s wishes and began the study of law. By 1804 he was working in the office of the Attorney-General of South Carolina and in 1807, he was admitted to the bar.

Though Fraser practiced law during his early adulthood, his passion was art. He demonstrated his artistic aptitude at an early age; extant sketchbooks date as early as 1796, when Fraser was only fourteen. He established lifelong friendships with artists such as Thomas Sully (1783-1872), Edward Greene Malbone (1777-1807), and Washington Allston (1779-1843). Unlike many of his contemporaries, Fraser was not an itinerant artist, though he did make five trips to the northern states where he visited the studios of other artists. He Charleston he worked to promote public art exhibitions and collections in Charleston and was a director of the South Carolina Academy of Fine Arts until its closure circa 1832.

Fraser exhibited widely during his lifetime. His work was shown in Philadelphia and New York as well as Charleston. His most important exhibit was the 1857 “Fraser Gallery” exhibit organized in his honor by a group of prominent citizens in Charleston. Over three hundred of his works were included in this exhibit. According to the catalog of the exhibition, his Still Life with Duck and Partridges (acc. 5470) was the last work he painted.

RELATED OBJECTS: It is among a large group of related objects in the MESDA collection with Fraser family histories. These include a Chippendale-style chest of drawers (acc. 2787) with a fitted upper drawer, an easy chair (acc. 2788.2), a candle stand (acc. 2788.1), the painted box created by Fraser for his niece Ann Susan Winthrop (acc. 5471), and a miniature portrait by Fraser of his niece Sophia Fraser (acc. 5509).

DESCRIPTION: Miniature portrait by Charles Fraser of Sophia Fraser, a young woman, auburn hair, blue eyes, and peach facial undertones. Her hair is pulled up at the crown, with tendrils falling around face. She sits slightly right, with her gaze right; three-quarter view. Her high empire waisted gown has ruffles around the neck at the collarbone; having a blue/lavender shawl draped over her forearms. The background consist of varying shades of peach, blue and gray blended by stipple effect. There are areas of heavy painting around the edges, and what appears to be a fine scratch across her chest and slightly past the left shoulder.

Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund