This pair of portraits is a charming example of the placidly realistic pastel portraits of self-taught New Jersey artist Micah Williams. Born in Essex county, Williams worked primarily and prolifically in Middlesex and Monmouth counties, New Jersey. A successful artist-for-hire, he is credited with over one hundred pastel and oil portraits of local residents, most executed between 1818 and 1830 in New Jersey before he relocated to New York City between 1830 and 1832 (Lee Kogan, American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York, 2001), p. 310).
In these portraits Williams depicts Phoebe Morris McDowell (1801-1842) and George McDowell (1799-1872) of Cranbury, Middlesex County, New Jersey. According to church records, the couple wed at the First Presbyterian Church in Cranbury on February 29, 1820. While the portrait of George McDowell exhibits the simplicity of Williams' early work, his young wife is fully rendered in the artist's signature style. The portrait is carefully executed with heavy modeling in the sitter's facial features and intricately braided and curled hair. Williams places his subjects in front of a plain background and Mrs. McDowell holds a book, both common elements in this group of portraits. The newspaper backing on these portraits (another hallmark of the artist) dates the execution of these portraits to the summer of 1821, a time when Micah Williams was living and most actively working in Middlesex county.