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Portrait of woman in black gown

A light-skinned woman stands facing slightly left. Her eyes are large, and her cheeks, nose, and lips are pink. She has shiny dark brown hair that is styled in twists and a bun. Small, sparkly earrings hang from her ears. She wears a long buttoned-up black gown with a collar and lacy sleeves. A white lace collar peeks from under the neckline of the gown. The woman holds white gloves in her hands. Behind her is a beige wall with gold botanical designs. The lighting in this portrait is soft and warm-toned.

Gallery Text

William Morris Hunt, who spent three years as a student at Harvard, was the preeminent portraitist in mid-nineteenth-century Boston. With its soft focus, warm golden tonalities, and partially turned figure, this work reflects the influence of the famed French painter Jean-François Millet, with whom Hunt trained in the 1850s. As Boston’s leading artist, Hunt wielded tremendous influence, and he used his writings, teachings, and extensive social connections to introduce the city’s artists and art patrons to the work of Millet and other members of the Barbizon school.

The sitter, Mary Elizabeth Robbins, was married to Boston entrepreneur and industrialist Royal Robbins, founder of the Boston Watch Company. Robbins made his fortune manufacturing affordable and accurate timepieces for the Union Army during the Civil War. This portrait was probably displayed in the fashionable Back Bay home that the couple had built in 1864.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
William Morris Hunt, American (Brattleboro, VT 1824 - 1879 Isles of Shoals, NH)
Mary Elizabeth Robbins
Work Type
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Oil on canvas
96.5 x 72.4 cm (38 x 28 1/2 in.)
framed: 125.1 x 100.6 cm (49 1/4 x 39 5/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: lower left: WMH / 66
  • label: on verso: WORKS OF WM MORR [...] / November, 18 [...] / Owner [inscribed:] R.E. Robbins / To be returned to [inscribed:] 44 Commonwealth
  • inscription: on verso, frame: 37505
  • inscription: on verso, frame: R3962A


Recorded Ownership History
Mary Elizabeth Robbins, by descent; Amelia Choate Reilly, loan; to Harvard Art Museums, 2013

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Loan from Amelia Choate Reilly
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • Exhibition of the Works of William Morris Hunt, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, MA, 1880), in later editions of the catalogue; probably no. 220 ("Portrait Painted 1866 [loan of] R.E. Robbins")

Exhibition History

  • Exhibition of the Works of William Morris Hunt, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 12/20/1879 - 01/31/1880
  • 32Q: 2710 North Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 06/22/2021

Verification Level

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