Emma W. Fullerton
- Emma W. Fullerton
- Indian Ayah with Sleeping Children
- signed E. W. Fullerton and dated 1879 (lower left)
- oil on canvas
- 24 by 20 1/4 in.
- 60.9 by 51.4 cm
Possibly, Sale: Sloan's, Washington, D. C., October 27, 2000 (as Woman with Sleeping Infant)
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Few pictures by Fullerton have been identified, and none but the present work has been successfully located. In 1879, Fullerton exhibited two paintings at the Louisville Industrial Exposition: In Agra During the Sepoy Rebellion, 1857, and an etching of an Arab, after Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (1838-1874). In this same year, she submitted Indian Ayah with Sleeping Children to the Pennsylvania Academy. It received the standard P.A.F.A. label, but it was not exhibited at that time.1 The Exposition records for 1879 list Fullerton's address as 1420 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. This was also the address of the American Baptist Publication Society, suggesting that Fullerton's interest in Indian subjects may have derived from missionary activities undertaken with this organization. If so, this would make Fullerton one of the many nineteenth-century American women who traveled to India under the auspices of the church – and one of the very few who recorded their impressions in paint.2
The Indian ayah (maid or nanny) in the present work wears a traditional red sari. A portion of it has been draped over her head, in Muslim style, while the pallu, or loose end is cast front to back over her left shoulder. Fullerton correctly shows the gathering of a part of the sari into pleats, which are then tucked into the waistband of the woman's petticoat, forming low-hanging arcs of cloth. Such specific details again suggest that Fullerton visited India at some point before this picture was painted, and drew her inspiration from real life.
The simple decoration of the ayah's sari suggests that she is from modest economic means, though the glittering gold and silver threads that run through it (called resham work) add a measure of refined elegance to her being. Completing the woman's outfit, and adding a further touch of opulence, are half a dozen golden bangles and several more arm cuffs, their shapes echoing both the hoops of her nose- and ear-rings and the curved straps of her delicate sandals. So adorned, every step or even sway of the ayah's body would have triggered the melodious chime of jewelry, a soothing sound, perhaps, for the two children that she attends.
In the ayah's arms is a sleeping baby, its golden hair illuminated by a shaft of daylight that streams in through an opening outside the picture plane. Just behind this tranquil pair another, older child sleeps atop his makeshift bed. He is encircled by an array of local handicrafts and a pair of cast-off slippers, arranged haphazardly on the floor. The slippers' upturned toes point in the direction of the woman, but their true owner remains unknown. To the left, a long-barreled rifle has been set against the wall. Above it, a swallow soars in the direction of its baby, which peers, barely visible, from its nest. This last, explicit theme of motherhood adds an important gloss to Fullerton's painting, and sets a compelling narrative into motion: The Indian ayah is clearly a nurturing figure, but where is the real mother of these golden-haired children? The presence of a gun, concernedly aimed in the direction of the little swallows, casts a shadow over this sweet scene.
This catalogue note was written by Dr. Emily M. Weeks.
1 The Academy's exhibition records list only two works by Fullerton: Within the Lines: A Story of Rebellion (no. 55) and Summer Roses (no. 131). These were exhibited in 1881 and 1882, respectively. Fullerton's involvement with the Pennsylvania Academy was not unusual for an aspiring female artist in Philadelphia in the last decades of the nineteenth century. As early as 1844, the Academy had set a progressive-minded precedent, encouraging women to attend its classes. Early students would include Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) and Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942).
2 In Britain, a tradition of memsahibs painting had existed since at least the beginning of the nineteenth century; in America, it would be left to Boston-born Orientalist Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903) and other intrepid male travelers to bring images of India home.
Please note this work will be sold unframed.