These portraits of Dr. and Mrs. Hezekiah Beardsley suggest a resistance to contemporary institutions of authority through small details. The doctor asserts himself as an independent thinker by holding Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a text critical of America and of certain aspects of Christianity. The quill and open notebook suggest he is taking notes and actively engaging with the ideas in the book. Likewise, Mrs. Beardsley reads Reflections, a work from the evangelical movement that introduced unconventional views on religion and questioned the authority of the established New England Church. With the inclusion of these books, the portraits suggest the power of literature, and thus all art forms, to challenge conventional modes of thought. As the viewer cannot understand these subversive elements in the paintings without identifying the texts, the viewer who “reads” the paintings closely is rewarded with further insight into the works. These paintings encourage critical thought in both the objects represented and the mode of representation.
< Dr. Beardsley
< Mrs. Beardsley