I first discovered Sarah Goodridge’s portraits visiting an historical society in Westminster, Massachusetts. Goodridge was born in 1788 in nearby Templeton, Massachusetts, the sixth of nine children, she showed an early propensity for drawing. It is said that as a child, she came across a book on drawing & painting & taught herself to draw. Growing up on a farm, with little money to buy paper, she drew her earliest pictures on the sanded kitchen floor with a stick or on sheets of peeled birch bark with a pin. A move to Boston in 1820, brought her to study with the celebrated portraitist Gilbert Stuart. Under Stuart’s influence her skill increased markedly. Upon arrival in Boston, she opened a studio and commenced a nearly thirty-year career in making miniature portraits, often two or three per week.
Goodrich developed an ongoing love relationship with Boston lawyer & politician Daniel Webster (1782-1852), who was married with 3 children, when she painted his first portrait. He sat for at least 12 more portraits over the next 25 years. Their friendship is documented in 44 letters,that Webster wrote to Goodridge between 1827 & 1851. She carefully preserved his letters to her; he destroyed her letters to him.
After Webster’s 1st wife died, Goodridge painted for her intimate friend a daring miniature self-portrait of her bare breasts naming it Beauty Revealed. Webster may have been appreciative of her gift, but he was an ambitious man who needed significant amounts of capital to fuel his conservative political ambitions. He chose his new wife, Caroline LeRoy, from a wealthy & prominent family. Webster tucked Goodrich’s self-portrait of her breasts away among his personal papers. The miniature was then purchased by Richard and Gloria Manney, who owned it for 30 years and then donated it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Goodridge was a businesswoman as well as an artist, so she must have known that her self-portraits functioned as an advertisement of her skill, as marketing tools, in effect. Her 1845 self portrait (shown below) is both an example of her work, and it is an illustration of her profession where she fashioned herself as an artist at work at her easel. She was somewhere between forty-five and fifty-two years old when she painted it. Her eyes are lowered, denying the viewer the typical eye-to-eye confrontation that usually adorns self-portraits. Partial views of her water glass, her hand, and her shawl hint at her illustrated profession. Posing herself working at her easel, she assumes an active, preoccupied role, too busy even to look at the viewer/mirror.
She never married and earned enough money to raise an orphaned niece and take care of her invalid mother for eleven years, which in itself was remarkable for a woman in the Jacksonian era. In 1850, due to failing eyesight, Goodridge retired to a house she bought in Reading, Massachusetts. Three years later she died of a stroke at the age of 65.