"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Anna Maria Thornton

This 1804 portrait of Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton (Mrs. William Thornton) by Gilbert Stuart hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton (1775?-1865) was a prominent Washington, D.C., socialite, diarist, and the wife of architect William Thornton, who designed the first United States Capitol building. She rubbed shoulders with figures such as George Washington and Dolley Madison. -- Wikipedia

This photo of a water-color portrait of Mrs. Thornton painted by her husband appeared in Allen C.  Clark's article Doctor and Mrs. William Thornton in the Columbia Historical Society Papers, Vol. 18, 1915.

Clark describes Mrs. Thornton this way:
She, of whom I write, had bright eyes and sharp features, the outward indicative of the inward, quick perception and accurate conclusion. Her pleasing personality, Gilbert Stuart has truthfully put in a portrait. She had the womanly graces. Besides she had the practical side and in the affairs of business was equal to a man. Nevertheless, she did not wield the club of Hercules; neither did she "invade the privileges" of the sterner sex.

Epiphany Episcopal Church says this of Anna Maria Thornton:
Anna Thornton was a prominent Washington, D.C. socialite in the early days of the capital city. She mingled with many significant political figures. Her diaries, kept from 1798 until her death in 1865, and maintained in the Library of Congress today, provide an interesting glimpse into life in the nation’s capital in the 19th Century. Anna was born in England and immigrated to the United States at a young age with her mother. Settling first in Philadelphia, Mrs. Brodeau set up and ran a successful school for girls. In 1790, 16-year old Anna married William Thornton, who was also an immigrant, born in the West Indies. Thornton was twice Anna’s age and had a medical education from Scotland and England. He did not care for doctoring and found his calling in architecture. He won the design contest for the U.S. Capitol in 1793 and the couple soon moved to Washington, D.C.

Anna’s diaries record her husband’s architectural career, designing homes for Washington’s elite. Among his commissions were John Tayloe’s Octagon House and Thomas and Martha Custis Peter’s Tudor Place. Anna’s writings also tell of her unofficial work as her husband’s assistant. She was his draftsman translating ideas into drawings and maps. The Thorntons maintained a lively social life with the wealthy and influential and entertained with flair in their home at 1331 F Street, NW. Anna outlived her husband by almost 40 years. Following her death on August 16, 1865, Anna Maria Thornton’s funeral was at Epiphany before her burial at Congressional Cemetery beside her husband. -- Epiphany Church
Her grave is in Congressional Cemetery, next to her husband's.

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