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Lunch at the Clark

In 1815, itinerant portrait painter Ammi Phillips was making his way through the tristate region, painting the husbands and wives, sons and daughters who populated the rural landscape.

Harriet Campbell, probably born June 10, 1808, in Greenwich NY, daughter of John and Polly Walker Campbell, was 7 years old when her portrait was painted standing serenely in an Empire-style frock of light rose muslin, the handle of a parasol clutched in one hand and a small reticule in the other.

The chances are, however, that Harriet never owned the garments in which she was depicted, as Phillips, who was born in Colebrook in 1788, often used the same outfits and accessories in different portraits. Campbell’s clothes are found again, for instance, in the contemporaneous portrait of Harriet Leavens of Lansingburgh NY.

The two Harriets were painted during Phillips’ Border Period, so named because most of his portraits painted between 1812 and 1819 were of the residents of the small towns on the borders of New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Today, the pictures of the two girls hold honored positions in the collections of two museums: Campbell was donated in 1991 by Canaan resident Oliver Eldridge to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown MA and Leavens to the Harvard Art Museum in 1945, a gift of Harriet’s great-grandniece, Harriet Anna Niel.

Campbell’s portrait will be the subject of a “Looking and Lunching” half-hour discussion in the galleries at Clark Institute tomorrow (Thursday) at noon. The sessions focus on one work of art each month, with Horace Ballard, assistant curator at the Williams College Museum of Art, discussing the style and trope in Phillips’s painting of Harriet Campbell, as well as offering insight into the lifestyle of the itinerant painter and 19th-century American art economy.

The talk is free with gallery admission. Plan to arrive early to pre-order and purchase a meal or bring your own lunch. Limited seating is available. Meet at the admissions desk in the Clark Center.