was the first known pastelist and professional female artist to work in the American colonies. She was born Henrietta de Beaulieu, the daughter of Cézar and Susanne(du Pré) de Beaulieu, French Huguenots who fled to England in 1685 to avoid persecution. In 1694 she married William Dering and moved to Ireland. Although thesophistication of her pastel drawings suggests that she may have had some formal training, nothing is known of her education. Her work has been compared to that of the Irish born artists Edmund Ashfield (d. 1700) and Edward Luttrell, who worked from 1690 to 1720. She may have been taught by both men.Johnston’s earliest known works were drawn about 1704 in Ireland. In 1705 she married again, to Gideon Johnston, who was to become commissary for theBishop of London, at St. Philip’s Church in Charles Town, South Carolina, in 1708. Evidence suggests that, once in Charleston, the artist supplemented the familyincome by drawing portraits of many of Charleston’s French Huguenot residents and members of St. Philip’s Church. Frustrated by debt and misfortune in SouthCarolina, Gideon Johnston wrote the bishop in 1709: “Were it not for the Assistance my wife gives me by drawing of Pictures…I shou’d not have been able to live.” ohnston’s work can be divided into three periods: the Irish period (c. 1704–1705), the period in Charleston prior to Gideon’s death (1708–1715), and the period between Gideon’s death in 1716 and Henrietta’s own death in 1729, during which she worked in Charleston and briefly in New York. Johnston is not known to haveworked in any medium other than pastels on paper, although at least one of her portraits was later copied in oil by Jeremiah Theus. Nearly forty works attributed toJohnston survive, many of these in original frames with backboards signed and dated by the artist. In addition, many of the artist’s sitters have been identified, somethrough original backboard inscriptions, including the fourth Earl of Barrymore, whose portrait Johnston completed in Dublin in 1704.The extant Irish works are all waist-length portraits and show the most attention to detail of all her portraits, with well-defined facial features, lively and expressiveeyes, attention to clothing, and dramatic background shading. Several of the Charleston portraits also retain characteristics of the Irish works, but most are bust-length,and some show less attention to clothing and facial details. Her adult female sitters are posed facing slightly left or right and are draped in either white or gold, withwhite, slightly ruffled borders forming a V-shaped neckline. Their hair is generally swept up, with ringlets falling over one shoulder.Johnston’s portraits became almost ethereal in the period immediately after her husband’s death. Her subjects’ faces lack the lively expression seen in earlier works,clothing details are not as clearly defined, and colors are less saturated, suggesting that the artist was either running low on supplies or was trying to complete the portraits quickly.In their final period, Johnston’s portraits vary in the quality of detail; while some of the later works exhibit a return to skillfully executed facial and clothing details, atleast one reflects the ethereal quality seen immediately after her husband’s death. The New York works feature the only known portraits of small children, both of which are closer to three-quarter length and include the children’s arms and hands. The only landscapes attributed to Johnston are those used as backgrounds in thesetwo portraits of children.
Painting, American Folk; Painting, Landscape
Henrietta Johnston: “Who greatly helped…by drawing pictures,”
Winston-Salem, N.C., 1991.Middleton, Margaret Simmons.
Henrietta Johnston of Charles Town, South Carolina: America’s first Pastellist.
Columbia, S.C., 1966.Severens, Martha. “Who was Henrietta Johnston?”
The Magazine Antiques,
vol. CXLVIII, no. 5 (November 1995): 704–709