Object of the Month

Eliza Susan Quincy: The Education of an Artist in the Early Republic

Birthplaces of John Adams and John Quincy Adams Watercolor

Birthplaces of John Adams and John Quincy Adams

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[ This description is from the project: Object of the Month ]

Eliza Susan Quincy painted this watercolor of the birthplaces of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams in 1822 from the vantage point of Penn's Hill in Quincy, Massachusetts. The drawing is one of a series of nine that form a part of Quincy's extraordinary two-volume unpublished memoir, given to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1870.

Who was Eliza Susan Quincy?

A prolific diarist, genealogist, and amateur artist, Eliza Susan Quincy (1798-1884), was the eldest child of Eliza Susan Morton and Josiah Quincy, mayor of Boston and president of Harvard. An historian by nature, Eliza collaborated with her father on most of his important writings; during 1823 and 1824, she prepared a biography of her grandfather, Memoir of the Life of Josiah Quincy, Jun., that was published under her father's name in 1825. Her personal diary, among the Quincy family papers at the MHS, reveals her lifelong study of art, while documenting her circle of women friends: amateur artists who studied and painted together and remain all but unknown today. She and three of her sisters, Margaret, Anna, and Maria, who epitomize nineteenth-century well-bred New England women, were dubbed "The Articulate Sisters," by their biographer, M. A. DeWolfe Howe.

Eliza Susan Quincy appears to have taken up painting seriously at the age of sixteen. Her manuscript diary contains references to her studies in watercolor under Sarah Vaughan (1785-1847) of Hallowell, Maine, whose monochromatic palette Quincy adopted in her own work. She also wrote of painting landscapes under Eliza Eliot of Newton, and spent several years in David L. Brown's Boston classes. Her diary entry for 23 November 1818, notes "I went constantly to the Drawing School of D. L. Brown...copied all his most difficult lessons in Seppia & Water color, I highly enjoyed the successful employment which also gave great pleasure to the rest of the family..." Exacting in her standards, she commented on December 24th: "Most of his scholars painted in oil colors but knowing I never could attain satisfactory proficiency in that style I persevered in pencil & watercolors."

A distant cousin and neighbor of the Adams family of Braintree (now Quincy), Eliza sketched the homes of John and John Quincy Adams among a series of nine watercolors inserted in a two-volume set of memoirs that she gave to the Historical Society in 1870. These sketches, painted en grisaille (entirely in shades of gray) in 1822, serve to document the Quincy family's homestead and neighborhood in considerable detail. In this particular view, she numbered the lower margin to indicate the birthplaces of Presidents John Adams (1) and John Quincy Adams (2), as well as Mr. Marsh's school (3) that John Adams and her father attended. Her use of very light washes for the distant views and dark washes for the foreground are traditional landscape conventions that Eliza would have learned in art class.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Howe, Mark Anthony DeWolfe, ed. The Articulate Sisters: Passages from Journals and Letters of the Daughters of President Josiah Quincy of Harvard University. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1946.

Quincy, Eliza Susan. A Portfolio of Nine Watercolor Views, Relating to Certain Members of the Adams and Quincy Families and Their Quincy Houses and Environment Done in the Year 1822. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1975.