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The elaborate, full-length portrait of Deborah Hall (1766, Brooklyn Museum) is one of the landmarks of Colonial portraiture, having earned its place in the canon for the pictorial innovations displayed by its creator, the enigmatic William Williams (1727-1791). The dominant narrative holds that Hall, the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Philadelphia printer David hall, tends her roses in an imaginary Garden of Love, surroundings Williams adapted from symbols of beauty and chastity found in emblem books of the period. The scholarly assumption is that the painting served to promote Deborah's marital suitability to potential suitors visiting the Hall residence. The current research unravels and disproves this interpretation by revealing an error that has existed since the painting was purchased from descendants of the family in 1942. In addition, the essay reveals the original print source for the painting, suspected to exist but undiscovered until now. Also examined for the first time are the circumstances of Deborah's early death in 1770 at the age of sixteen, as well as new research on her siblings, William Hall and David Hall, Jr. (also painted by Williams). These revelations offer a refreshing opportunity to view Deborah Hall--the person as well as the painting--in a completely new light.



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