Portrait of Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams
Portrait Miniature of John Quincy Adams
Sent from The Hague to London in connection with Jay’s Treaty in November 1795, John Quincy Adams often found himself at the home of Joshua Johnson, a prosperous former commercial agent of Maryland who was American Consul at London. Johnson and his English wife, Catherine Nuth, had seven daughters and a son. The Johnson household was elegant and sociable, and Adams’s acquaintance with twenty-year old Louisa Catherine Johnson (1775–1852) developed rapidly into affection. Before he returned to the Netherlands in the spring of 1796, they were engaged. Abigail Adams promptly asked her son to send a miniature of his fiancée to complement his portrait by Parker (see Acc. No.67.70), which she had finally received at the end of the preceding November.1 Oliver, 31.
This portrait is presumed to be by the popular miniaturist Samuel Shelley, because of the initials and the style. Like other female sitters to Shelley, Louisa is treated as a fashion plate. Shelley had developed a technique of loading his watercolors with gum arabic, by which means “he simulated the richness and depth of oil paints without completely forfeiting the transparency of watercolor.”2 Patrick J. Noon, in Murdoch, 194. Although characterization is scant, he avoids coyness and conveys an effect of youthful innocence despite his sitter’s ostentatious accessories.
Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.