With detailed, elegant lacework, ruddy, arresting facial features and minimalist, abstracted gray clothing, Woman in Gray Dress reveals John Brewster, Jr.’s distinctive and sophisticated style.
Born deaf, Brewster became a preeminent folk portraitist, choosing to travel throughout the Northeast painting likenesses of the rural elite rather than settling into one of the period’s deaf communities. He started working in or before 1790, first limning his family members, and later journeyed through Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York State. As he matured artistically, Brewster increasingly focused on the eyes of his sitters and depicted stylized clothing and jewelry; the abstract, flattened fabric of Woman in Gray Dress engages and offsets her softened features. Her gently sloped shoulders, the handling of the folds of her dress, and her bold gaze towards the painter echo Brewster’s 1809 Mrs. John Stone (Elizabeth Pickering), illustrated in Harlan Lane, A Deaf Artist in Early America (Boston, 2004), plate 19.