Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Object Details

Attributed to John Ramage (American, 1748-1802)
ca. 1789
United States: Massachusetts: Boston
North American
watercolor on ivory; in its gilded copper case
Overall: 2 3/16 in x 1 1/8 in; 5.55625 cm x 2.8575 cm
Given by John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) to his widowed aunt, Mrs. Josiah (Abigail Phillips) Quincy; descended in the Quincy family to Josiah Phillips Quincy (1829-1910); to his daughter, Mrs. Walter G. Davis (b. 1863); to John Davis, of Toledo, Ohio; from his estate to the donors, of Birmingham, Michigan, ca. 1955 [1] Notes: 1.The family tradition that the miniature was a present from John Quincy Adams to his favorite aunt, who had been widowed at an early age, is supported by the fact that Josiah Quincy (1744-1775) died prematurely. This portrait unfortunately escaped the notice of Andrew Oliver when writing his admirable Portraits of John Quincy Adams and His Wife.
Credit Line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James O. Keene
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number

Related Objects

Portrait Miniature of John Quincy Adams

Portrait Miniature of John Quincy Adams

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watercolor on ivory, in its gilded case
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Portrait of John Quincy Adams

Harding, Chester
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Object Essay

That this handsome miniature is by John Ramage seems beyond question, despite the absence of inscriptions or other documentation. It is entirely in his style. The surface is clean, the pale blue ground and willow-green coat smoothly brushed in.       

The artist is known to have been dandified in his dress, and that is reflected in his miniatures where the “gentlemen wear the smartest of wigs, the most exquisite waistcoats imaginable, and ruffles and jabots fresh from the deftest and most devoted of laundresses.”1Wehle, 29–30. Wehle quotes Dunlap for the description of Ramage’s own costume. The shape and frame of the miniature underscore Ramage’s authorship. The pointed oval is fairly common in his work but rare elsewhere. A trained goldsmith, he usually framed his ivories “in chased gold frames of his own making and more beautiful than those used by any other miniaturist in America.”2

Ramage, an Irish émigré to Boston shortly before the Revolution, had served with British loyalist troops, first in Boston, until Washington’s siege forced the evacuation (March 17, 1776), and later in New York City. The British held the city throughout the war, and, when they finally withdrew, Ramage chose to remain behind and resume his profession in New York. He stayed in New York until 1794; then he moved to Montreal for the rest of his life.      

There is, at first glance, a striking difference in Adams’s appearance in this miniature, which has generally been dated about 1793, and the miniature by Parker of 1795 (see Acc. No. 67.70). But the former has probably been dated several years too late, a suggestion supported by the sitter’s features and by other circumstances.       

The federal government had established the first capital in New York City in 1789, where it remained through August 12, 1790. In September, 1789, following his father’s installation as Vice President, John Quincy visited his parents in New York, and it seems likely that Ramage painted his miniature at this time.3Oliver, 15. A date of September 1789, when the sitter was twenty-two, would accord with his appearance in this portrait and contrast more convincingly with the rather sensual fullness of the Parker likeness of a man nearly twenty-eight. Adams’s face continued to fill out over the next quarter century, which is clear from Leslie’s portrait of 1816 (see. Acc. No. 75.38). Thereafter, he seems to have retrieved some of his youthful leanness, as evidenced from the Harding portrait of 1828 (see Acc. No.  76.74).

William Kloss

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.