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I was looking for something else, and found instead Sally Sanford Pert, 1790. That is surely a fantastic hat, but the painting itself is quite interesting, too.  I was chasing Sanford Mason, which is how Sally came up in my search, though she was painted by Reuben Moulthrop (1763-1814).

She’s on display at the Met right now, and if I had the time, I’d get on the Acela and see her myself. Is she really that blue? Does her hair really look like she made a wig from a grenadier’s cap? What exactly is happening with the gown? And who, oh who, is shown in the portrait miniature she proffers? I’d guess her child, perhaps deceased, but it is only a guess. If you click through to the Met’s catalog record, you can zoom in on the portrait. The neck of the gown seems to be edged in printed or embroidered fabric different from that of the gown itself. It isn’t really a zone gown, and the “flaps” or “lapels” remind me of the robings of earlier gowns, or even a robe volant typical of the early 18th century.

Atop this all sits the hat, with its corkscrew ribbon ringlet, the whole thing looking like it was made of paper. In a way the painting raises more questions than it answers, about dress, painting style, the artist, and who Sally was. The best projects seem to start with a question. I don’t know where Sally might lead, but I’m glad I found her.