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Puritan Maiden

On view

Puritan Maiden

Artist: George H. Boughton (English, 1833-1905)

Date: c. 1876
Medium: Oil on wood, with an original rococo revival style frame
Overall: 21 x 14in. (53.3 x 35.6cm)
Framed: 33 1/2 x 27in. (85.1 x 68.6cm)
Signed: Lower left: 'G.H. Boughton'
Credit Line: Proctor Collection
Object number: PC. 9
Label Text
This work was purchased from the artist by Frederick T. Proctor and bequeathed it in 1929 to his sister-in-law, Maria W. Proctor. When Maria W. Proctor died in 1935, it was donated to the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute. There is no surviving archival documentation indicating when the picture was acquired, or its purchase price. Presumably, the painting was displayed by Frederick T. and Rachel W. Proctor in their home, Fountain Elms.

Raina Goldbas
Museum Intern, 2004

This picture's imposing frame, with its finely detailed rococo ornament, was probably made during the decade of the 1870s. Boughton was living at this time in England, but was successfully selling his paintings on both sides of the Atlantic. More than likely this is the work's original frame, but whether it was made in the United States or England has not been determined. There is no label on the back, and the Museum's records do not indicate where or when Frederick T. Proctor acquired the picture. A nameplate originally affixed just above the cabochon in the middle of the frame's lower rail has been removed. The gilding under where the nameplate was shows the frame's original bright gold finish. Original gilding can also be seen on the frame's back "hollow"--the concave section next to the back edge.

This frame demonstrates the continued popularity of the rococo style in the United States during the post-Civil War era. The rococo ornament used at this time tended to be larger and more imposing than what was used on rococo style frames made in the United States earlier in the century. Such ornament, with its associations of the frivolity and lightheartedness of 18th-century France, seems out of place on a picture that depicts a 17th century English Puritan; a group that viewed luxury or pleasure as sinful and probably never dressed as sumptuously as Boughton's maiden is depicted.

Paul D. Schweizer
August 2010

Text Entries

History held a powerful grip on the popular imagination in America and England in the nineteenth century. Novelists such as Sir Walter Scott and artists such as George Henry Boughton transformed the erudite research of antiquarians and historians into vivid dramas, considering issues that fascinated their audiences. How did people live in earlier times? What real-life dilemmas did they face? How did they resolve them? In this guise, history offered contemporary society, unsettled by the sweeping changes wrought during the nineteenth century, a foil against which it might measure its achievements, question its values, clarify and promote its ideals.

Boughton often recreated scenes from the lives of the Puritans, intrigued, as he told Alfred Baldry, by “‘the sad but picturesque episodes in which they played parts.’”(1) English by birth, Boughton had emigrated with his family to Albany, New York, around 1834. Largely self-trained as a painter, he achieved his first major success with the exhibition and sale of Winter Twilight (New York Public Library, on permanent loan to the New-York Historical Society) at the National Academy of Design in 1858. The artist then moved to New York, taking a studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building and attending classes at the National Academy of Design until 1860, when he had saved adequate funds from the sale of his works for travel to Europe. In Paris Boughton studied with Thomas Couture’s pupil, Edouard May. Later he traveled to Brittany to work with Edouard Frere. More confident of his mastery of the figure, Boughton set out for New York in 1861, but during a stopover in London he decided to stay and ultimately to make his home there permanently. At the Royal Academy in 1867 Boughton received critical acclaim for his Early Puritans of New England Going to Worship (New York Public Library, on permanent loan to the New York Historical Society). A number of paintings followed this first foray into the realm of the Puritans, some, like his 1879 Priscilla (1983, Edward J. Boughton, III. California) and his 1881 Hester Prynne (1982, Raydon Gallery, New York), inspired by the literature of Henry  Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Many of Boughton’s Puritan images entered American collections. often with the aid of the painter’s friend and supporter, the art dealer Samuel P. Avery. Several were engraved for distribution in the United States. Indeed, Boughton came to be so widely associated with the theme that his nickname as a member of the Tile Club, a New York artists‘ group was “The Puritan.”(2)

Puritan Maiden of c. 1875 shares the mood of quiet melancholy with which many of the artist’s Puritan scenes are imbued. Poised at the edge of a snow-covered cemetery, alone beneath the skeletal branches of ice-coated trees, a young woman approaches a meetinghouse, psalter in hand.(3) She wears a pensive, perhaps sad expression, matching the dark and cheerless day. The only hint of another human presence is to be found in the massive structure looming over the wall at the right. Boughton’s palette, restricted to muted gray-blues and ruddy earth tones, contributes to the desolate effect of the scene. The uninviting qualities of the landscape are heightened further by contrast with the youth and beauty of the maiden. Her glowing peach complexion is full of vitality in this otherwise lifeless setting. Arrayed with a variety of decorative accessories—sprightly ribbon-trimmed hat, fur-edged muff, delicately patterned gloves(4)—she presents a sympathetic figure, tempting the viewer to muse about the circumstances of her life. The maiden’s erect posture and the determined set of her jaw suggest that she is immune to these bleak surroundings. Is she guided by some inner strength and purpose?

In popular nineteenth-century imagery the Puritans were characterized as people of unswerving conviction and uncommon fortitude—founders of a model community in New England, challengers to royal rule at home. Artists emphasized the Puritans’ religious beliefs and their willingness to make personal sacrifices for them. Boughton, for example, intimates that the young subject of Puritan Maiden endures a hostile environment sustained by her belief. Artists and their audiences were attracted, it seems, to the very qualities of the Puritans that they believed they themselves lacked. In images such as Puritan Maiden, nineteenth-century viewers could look back longingly to a more morally certain era, removed from the confusing flux of modern existence. Boughton’s wistful scenes of Puritan life offered particularly compelling glimpses of that simpler time.



1. Alfred L. Baldry, “G.H. Boughton: His Life and Work,” Art Journal Christmas Annual, vol. 29 (1904,), p. 8. Baldry’s monograph remains the most complete discussion of the artist and his work. Rudolph de Cordova‘s interview with Boughton (“Mr. George Henry Boughton,” Strand Magazine, vol. 20, no. 1 15 [August 1900], pp. 3—15) is a valuable reminiscence of the artist on his early career. See also the reminiscences of one of Boughton’s fellow Albany artists, Charles Calverley, “Recollections of George H. Boughton,” undated typescript in the McKinney Library, Albany Institute of History and Art.

2. Catalogue of Work in Many Media by Men of the Tile Club, New London, Connecticut, 1945.

3. As if to emphasize the hardships the Puritans willingly suffered, Boughton depicted them on more than one occasion in snowy winter landscapes. The Puritan Maiden is especially akin to the slightly later Priscilla, in which a pretty young woman braves the elements alone.

4. Boughton abandoned his usual historical accuracy ofdetail in the Puritan Maiden. The subject’s costume is a curious pastiche of elements proper to contemporary as well as historic dress and may well have resulted from an expedient use of studio props. Similar ribbon-trimmed hats are worn by the pretty subjects of contemporary costume pieces by Boughton entitled Winter and A Winter Ramble (locations unknown, both illustrated in “Paintings by G.H. Boughton, Reproductions,” mounted and bound by the New York Public Library, vol. 4 [1936]). The subjects of the latter carry fur-edged muffs virtually identical to that in the Utica painting.



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