Two images which I first saw long ago established an everlasting, though certainly ideal, image of New England Puritans in my mind, and I am certain that I am not the only one for which this is true: these are illustrations by the nineteenth-century Anglo-American artist George Henry Boughton (1833-1905) of Pilgrims walking to church in the winter–steadfast souls in a harsh landscape. The first painting is the well-known and widely-disseminated Pilgrims Going to Church (1867) and the second is an engraving of two particular Pilgrims, John and Priscilla Alden, presumably also on their way to services in the snow, she with bible in hand and he with gun. Both paintings emphasize the vulnerability of the Puritans by presenting them in a barren seasonal landscape, yet clearly they are armed with both their faith and their relationships, as well as their muskets.
George Henry Boughton, Early Puritans of New England Going to Church (1867), Collection of the New-York Historical Society; Puritan couple on their way to Sunday worship, engraved by Thomas Gold Appleton (1885).
Boughton became one of the most influential crafters of the Puritan image through both his own paintings (The New York Times predicted that his iconic 1871 painting The Return of the Mayflower would “live as long as the memory of the Mayflower itself lasts”) and reproductions thereof, many commissioned by the entrepreneurial publisher Alfred S. Burbank of Plymouth, who owned and operated his “Pilgrim Bookshop” from 1872 from 1932. Boughton’s Puritans appeared on trade and post cards, diverse souvenirs, and as individual prints for decades. Below is his favorite Priscilla Alden, even more vulnerable in the absence of John, in both the original 1879 painting and a turn-of-the-century trade card.
Boughton’s Puritan paintings reveal a reverence for the origins of the country of his childhood, but his work and life should be viewed in an Atlantic context: he was born in Britain and lived in his native country for most of his adulthood. He traveled widely on the Continent, studied in France, and was clearly just as influenced by western European artists and scenes as American history. But I think his American paintings also influenced his life’s work: looking over his cumulative oeuvre, I noticed a penchant for depicting Priscilla-like women in winter, often alone, seemingly and simultaneously both vulnerable and strong in their purposes and thoughtful in their gazes. Even when one of Boughton’s winter women is dressed in the more elaborate attire of his own era (as in The Lady of the Snows below) she still bears traces of the Puritan Priscilla.
George Henry Boughton, Girl with a Muff, Glasgow Museums Resource Centre (GMRC); A Puritan Maiden (1875), Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute; Gathering Firewood in the Winter, Christies; Watercolor illustration to ‘Love in Winter’, Christies; The Lady of the Snows (1896), Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.
January 4th, 2015 at 9:02 am
I’ve often wondered who created the Pilgrim “image.” Such a strange mixture of historical clothing, too – Boughton borrows pieces (like the fur-edged muffs) from all different centuries, which makes the women seem oddly timeless.
January 4th, 2015 at 9:05 am
I’m so glad you brought up the muffs, Susan–they certainly are prominent! They are definitely a 17th century accessory, but I don’t think a 17th century Puritan accessory.
January 4th, 2015 at 9:14 am
Fur-lined muffs certainly don’t seem to fit the Puritan fashion-sense, do they? Seventeenth century muffs were usually bigger, and I’ve only seen pictures of them in connection with affluent noblewomen (and men.) The narrow, fur-edge variety like the ones Boughton shows are more mid-18th c, as seen in Francois Boucher’s “Winter.” Not exactly a Puritan maid in the snow, though….:)
January 4th, 2015 at 9:35 am
Lovely link! To your point, my favorite 17th century muffs are those depicted by Hollar: http://streetsofsalem.com/2013/01/28/winter-wear-in-the-1640s/. Who seems just as obsessed as Boughton!
January 4th, 2015 at 8:49 pm
Yes! Didn’t Hollar even do a still life featuring a muff? And masks; I always think of that one Hollar woman wearing the half-mask. I suppose we should be thankful Boughton didn’t put masks on his Puritans.
January 3rd, 2016 at 5:47 pm
Reblogged this on Laras Notebook and commented:
interesting post, wonderful pictures
November 26th, 2021 at 9:48 am
Does anyone know where the original painting of Priscilla is located?
November 26th, 2021 at 4:22 pm
Yes, the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, UK.
November 26th, 2021 at 8:15 pm
Thank you for the reply. I saw a photograph taken back in 1913 of a very similar painting in the USA. There was a tree limb and the position of the Bible were slightly different. Did GH Boughton make more than one copy of this painting?? I did read a letter that he wrote to someone saying that he (Boughton) would be happy to do 2 different sizes of another theme as it would give him a chance to improve or do more detail.
The other painting in the US was 62.2 cm x 42 cm, but I do not know if the painting in Briston UK included the frame measurement.
What are your thoughts on this?
November 30th, 2021 at 12:04 pm
I think that a lot of prints were made of his paintings–they were very popular. And maybe someone made a copy of a print?
November 30th, 2021 at 12:34 pm
The photograph was of a painting at a museum for an exhibition. The photograph was of several paintings hanging on the wall, so I am sure it was a painting and not a print. The 1913 brochure of the exhibit is online, which is where I noticed 3 little differences. My apologies for not making it more clear that it was a painting with dimensions of approximately 24.5 inches by 16 inches. So, given that it was a painting back in 1913, what are your personal thoughts that there is more than one “Priscilla” floating around in the world, particularly that Bought offered to paint copies (as well as having the opportunity to tweak a few things) of another painting in different sizes for someone. thanks for your replies.