Christian Gullager
Sarah Greenleaf Boardman (Mrs. Offin Boardman) and Benjamin Greenleaf Boardman, about 1787

Sarah Greenleaf Boardman (Mrs. Offin Boardman) and Benjamin Greenleaf Boardman represents slightly more than a half-length view of a woman and a child. Sarah Boardman is seated to the left of her son Benjamin, who holds a small dog. Mrs. Boardman is turned slightly to the right and gazes forward, and her son faces a bit to the left. She wraps her left arm around the boy's back and rests her left hand on his shoulder; her right hand is on his right forearm.

Sarah wears a large mob cap made of sheer fabric and decorated with a large ribbon and frills. Gullager defined the frills with thin brushstrokes of gray and white paint. An earring comprised of two gold balls is visible at her proper right ear. Her graying brown hair is visible beneath the cap and along the right side of her face. She has brown eyes to which the artist added a white dot of paint to enliven the pupils and a dark brown line above the irises. Gullager rendered a blemish with pink and dark brown paint under her proper right eye.

A thin, dark ribbon is tied in a bow around her neck above a strand of yellow beads, some of which are highlighted in white. Her brown dress has sleeves that end just below the elbow, revealing the white, lace-edged, floral-patterned cuffs of her shift. Across her broad chest, Sarah wears a sheer kerchief that is trimmed with three ribbons.

Sarah Boardman sits in a wooden side chair with carved, pointed ears and two slats visible. Gullager alternated strokes of white and reddish-brown paint to define the highlights in the chair. He also painted opaque white highlights on the woman's hands.

Benjamin's brown hair falls on his shoulders, and he has short, uneven bangs. His eyes are proportionately larger than his mother's. He wears a gray frock with white cuffs that have a narrow lace edge. Gullager painted long zig zagging brushstrokes of white paint on the bodice and sleeves of the frock.

The dog's oval face is tilted to the left and its eyes are directed at the viewer. Its nose is black with a pink tip and three white whiskers. The dog is mostly black with touches of white fur on its ears and paws. Its solid black tail curls on Sarah Boardman's lap.

The background is a dark olive color to the left of the figures, and tan to their right. There is also a hint of blue and green paint along the right side of the mob cap and Sarah's right shoulder.

Born on April 5, 1747, Sarah Greenleaf Boardman was the second of nine children of Timothy Greenleaf (1719–1764) and Susanna Greenleaf (1724–1771) of Newbury, Massachusetts. Sarah had a sister and four brothers, in addition to three sisters who died in infancy.1 About 1771 she married Offin Boardman IV (1747/8–1811), who was the son of Offin Boardman III (1723–1802) and Hannah Carr Boardman (d. 1777). Sarah's husband was a prosperous ship master, ship owner, and merchant.2 The Boardmans had five children, including Benjamin (who appears with his mother in Gullager's portrait), who was born on September 25, 1783, after his father's return from fighting in the American Revolution.3 Sarah died on August 29, 1796, and was buried in Highland Cemetery in Newburyport. Her death notice identified her simply as the "Consort of Capt. OFFIN BOARDMAN."4

Like his father, Benjamin Greenleaf Boardman became a ship owner. In 1810 and 1811 he owned the sloop Eliza and the schooner Mary Ann.5 On November 8, 1805, he married Susanna White (1783–1838) in Newburyport, Massachusetts.6 They had two sons.7 On March 10, 1858, Benjamin died in Boston and was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.8

Figure 1. Christian Gullager, Captain Offin Boardman, about 1787, oil on canvas, 38 11/16 x 34 9/16 in. (98.3 x 87.8 cm), Worcester Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1938.4.

Sarah Greenleaf Boardman (Mrs. Offin Boardman) and Benjamin Greenleaf Boardman and the companion portrait Captain Offin Boardman (fig. 1) were attributed to Christian Gullager when they entered the collection of the Worcester Art Museum in 1938. The museum's curator Louisa Dresser made the attribution based on their similarity to documented works by Gullager. The Boardman portraits share with Martha Saunders Salisbury (Mrs. Nicholas Salisbury) and Rebecca Salisbury Waldo (Mrs. Daniel Waldo), for example, similar handling of the paint in the fabrics, modeling of the flesh, and awkward drawing of the hands.9 Whereas companion portraits often face one another, both Offin and Sarah Boardman are turned slightly to the right. With the portrait of Offin hanging to the left of Sarah and Benjamin's, the figures lead the viewer's eye from the father at left to the mother in the middle and the child at right.

Early inscriptions on the Boardman portraits indicate that they were painted in 1787. Gullager is known to have lived in Newburyport by May 9, 1786, when he married Mary Maley Selman (1760–1835) there.10 The artist painted at least six other portraits of Newburyport and Gloucester sitters during his stay on the North Shore. In addition to the Boardmans, Gullager painted two more pairs representing a husband and wife: Captain David Coats and Mehitable Thurston Coats (Mrs. David Coats) (both about 1787, Saint Louis Art Museum, Mo.), and David Plumer and Mary Sargent Plumer (Mrs. David Plumer) (both 1787, Sargent House Museum, Gloucester, Mass.). Additionally, Gullager painted a portrait of the Coatses' daughter, Elizabeth Coats (Mrs. John Greenleaf) (about 1787, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Calif.).11

Figure 2. Christian Gullager, Mehitable Thurston Coats (Mrs. David Coats), about 1787, oil on canvas, 36 5/8 x 32 3/8 in. (93 x 82.2 cm), The Saint Louis Museum of Art, Saint Louis, Missouri, Museum purchase, 48.1949.

The figure of Mrs. Boardman is similar to that of Mehitable Thurston Coats (Mrs. David Coats) (fig. 2); that sitter was also the wife of a Newburyport sea captain. Both women are represented seated in a side chair and wearing a mob cap and a dark-colored dress with underskirts. The proper right arm in each portrait crosses the body. The inclusion of Benjamin Boardman in his mother's portrait creates obvious differences between Sarah Boardman's and Mehitable Coats's portraits. Coats is shown at her desk, writing letters, whereas the theme of the Boardman portrait is motherhood. Gullager also included a column and drapery behind Coats, in contrast to the plain background behind Sarah and Benjamin Boardman. Despite these differences, the poses, costumes, and techniques used to paint the two portraits are remarkably alike. Finally, just as the companion portraits of Sarah and Offin Boardman both turn left, the pendants of Mehitable and David Coats both face the same direction (rather than the more common placement of a husband and wife turned toward one another).

Sarah Greenleaf Boardman (Mrs. Offin Boardman) and Benjamin Greenleaf Boardman is Gullager's only known double portrait, and he does not appear to have painted many portraits of young children. His portrait of David West, Jr. (fig. 3) represents a slightly older boy, wearing a light blue trouser suit and holding a small black dog. Benjamin Boardman's likeness is also similar to the portrait of Tyler Shaw (about 1789, private collection), who is also posed standing and turned slightly to the left. The simply drawn, broad face and the frock trimmed with lace further relate the portraits of Benjamin Boardman and Shaw. A later portrait, Baby with a Dog (about 1797, location unknown), suggests that Gullager may have painted more portraits of this type toward the end of his career.12

Figure 3. Christian Gullager, David West, Jr., 1796, oil on canvas, 20 3/4 x 17 in. (52.7 x 43.2 cm), American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts, Bequest of Henry W. Cunningham, 1931. Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society.

Figure 4. Ralph Earl, Angus Nickelson and Family, about 1790, 42 1/2 x 58 in. (108 x 147.3 cm), Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, Gift of Robert L. Munson, 1969.01.

Benjamin Boardman is shown wearing the type of gray frock that was worn by young boys and girls in the eighteenth century. Boys were commonly dressed in a double breasted trouser suit sometime between the age of three and seven.13 Since Benjamin was probably three or four years old when the portrait was painted, the costume is consistent with his age. The shift in clothing from an infant's frock to a young boy's trouser suit is evident in Ralph Earl's Angus Nickelson and Family (fig. 4). The boy next to his father wears a trouser suit, whereas the younger brother who stands beside his mother wears a frock like Benjamin's. Children of both sexes wore their hair straight, loose, and cut in bangs, as seen in the portraits of Benjamin Boardman and Mehitable Shaw.14

1. Greenleaf 1896, 423, 440–41.

2. The approximate date of the Boardmans' marriage is suggested by the birth of their first child, Susanna Greenleaf Boardman, on December 29, 1771. Newburyport Vital Records 1911, I, 41.

3. Ibid., 40–41.

4. Impartial Herald, Newburyport, August 30, 1796.

5. Phillips 1937a, 63–63, 145.

6. Newburyport Vital Records 1911, II, 45.

7. Ibid., I, 40.

8. Permit for B.G. Boardman, Mount Auburn Cemetery, March 12, 1858, Mount Auburn Cemetery Archives, Cambridge, Mass.

9. Dresser 1949b, 125.

10. Ibid.

11. Gullager also painted Reverend Eli Forbes (about 1786–87, Cogswell's Grant, Essex, Mass., Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) and perhaps two other portraits of unidentified sitters (Historical Society of Old Newbury, Cushing House Museum, Newburyport, Mass.).

12. This portrait was advertised for sale by the Childs Gallery, Boston, in Apollo 93, no. 111, (May 1971): 61.

13. Calvert 1992, 85–86; Buck 1996, 64. See also, Lynne Bassett, Curator of Textiles and Fine Arts, Old Sturbridge Village, to Laura K. Mills, November 15, 1999, object file, Worcester Art Museum.

14. Calvert 1992, 83.