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August 14, 2012

Colonial Williamsburg Acquires Important Southern 18th-century Portrait

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation recently acquired an important portrait painted by Swiss-born Jeremiah Theus, a prolific artist who dominated professional portraiture in Charleston, S.C., from 1740 to 1774. Although he had little competition, much of his success was due to his talent for addressing wealthy South Carolinians’ ideals regarding self-imagery.

The painting of Elizabeth Allen Deas is the third Theus portrait to be added to the Colonial Williamsburg collection. It is believed to be painted at the time of her marriage to John Deas in 1759. Purchased at auction, the painting was owned by family descendants of Deas.

“No collection of Southern American portraits can be considered complete without one or more examples of Theus’s work,” said Barbara Luck, Colonial Williamsburg’s curator of paintings and sculpture. “None of our three portraits duplicates another. The three illustrate various aspects of the artist’s style that could not be captured in any single painting.”

The aesthetics of the portrait combine understated simplicity with unrestrained exuberance. Her white gown is unadorned and her hair pulled back severely from her face. Bursts of vivid color abound: blue facings on her sleeve ruffles, a blue band across her chest, and a length of scarlet fabric casually drawn around her body while a floral wreath in her hands and a floral ornament atop her head add more color, dense detail and rich textural notes.

Colonial Williamsburg has more than aesthetic interest in the painting. In 1974, the foundation acquired a stunning double chest originally owned by John and Elizabeth Deas, perhaps one of the finest to come out of the South. The two objects — chest and painting — will be paired in the upcoming major exhibition, “Arts of the South,” opening in 2013.

Acquisition of the portrait of Elizabeth Allen Deas was jointly funded by donors Mark and Loretta Roman of Williamsburg and by the Friends of Colonial Williamsburg Collections. The Romans are members of Colonial Williamsburg’s President’s Council, the Raleigh Tavern Society and the Goodwin Society.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg include the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, with more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum exhibits the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670–1830.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are located at the intersection of Francis and South Henry Streets in Williamsburg, Va., and are entered through the Public Hospital of 1773. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For museum program information, telephone (757) 220-7724.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural organization that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281