The sitter, who was born at Natchez, Mississippi in 1826, the granddaughter of a Governor of New Jersey, married the future Confederate President Jefferson Davis on February 25, 1845. She died at the Majestic Hotel in New York in 1906.
The picture was certainly painted in 1896, and is often known as “Widow of the Confederacy”. The New York Times for March 2, 1897 said that ‘…it is admirable in color and expression, while the texture of the crêpe bonnet and bodice is unusually well rendered.’ Ishbel Ross, in her biography, quotes Muller-Ury’s opinion of Mrs Davis, from the letter quoted in the entry of her daughter Winnie’s portrait, saying that “nobody could help admiring the intelligence, grace and personality of Mrs. J. Davis.” (p.393).
The full text of the letter, on black-edged mourning paper, quoted under provenance above reads:
‘The Gerard, Friday 16th
My dear friend
Can you advise me immediately of a reliable and reasonable packer to prepare the picture you painted of me for a journey to Colorado Springs — Since I have no one but myself to see the picture I have given it to my daughter Mrs Hayes who lives there and thinks it a wonderful picture.
I was very sorry not to see you when you called and hope you will come to see me after the holidays. The contrast between these and last years happy season will render me but poor company until these are over.
If you know such a packer who may be depended upon will you please give the bearer the answer as haste is necessary.
Faithfully, your friend
V Jefferson Davis’
Another picture of Mrs. Davis was certainly begun in January 1902. An undated letter in the artist’s papers reads:
‘Dear Mr. Ury
My grandchild leaves me tomorrow and I must be here until she goes. Could I not go to you the next day instead? I would not delay the sitting if I could help it. Yours cordially
V. Jefferson Davis.
This work was evidently left unfinished and has disappeared.