Portrait of James Bowdoin III

ca. 1771-1775Unknown ArtistEnglish(?)oil on canvas

Bequest of Mrs. Sarah Bowdoin Dearborn


This portrait of James Bowdoin III as a young man is thought to have been painted during Bowdoin’s travels through Europe between 1771-1775. Having one’s portrait painted was a venerable tradition for travelers on the European Grand Tour; a way of documenting a transformative experience and indicating the cultural sophistication acquired by the traveler. Here, the young Bowdoin is depicted against an Italianate landscape with a book in hand and wearing elegant clothing. The latter suggests a taste for finery cultivated by many Americans who traveled to Europe during this period, but which would have been out of place in Colonial America. The painting may have been commissioned in 1774 when Bowdoin was travelling to Italy. Around this time, Bowdoin’s had promised to his sister Elizabeth to have his portrait made and sent to Boston.

—Sean P. Burrus