An Unusual Self-portrait by a Self-Taught Female Artist

The art gift inspired by love

Christopher P Jones
5 min readJan 26, 2023


Beauty Revealed (1828) by Sarah Goodridge. Watercolour on ivory. 6.7 x 8 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, U.S. Image source The Met (public domain)

Described as “America’s finest woman miniaturist”, Sarah Goodridge was born in the town of Templeton, Massachusetts in 1788.

Forty years later, she painted this remarkable “self-portrait” of her own breasts and fixed the image inside a small red-leather case.

Then she gave it as a gift.

But who was the recipient of the red box? And what did it mean?

The Story Behind the Red Box

Goodridge specialised in miniatures painted on ivory.

These small, portable portraits — requiring a great deal of skill — were supposed to be held and viewed closely. They were given as meaningful gifts to demonstrate appreciation and devotion, often serving as symbols of friendship, love or political loyalty.

Reaching a height of popularity in the 18th century, they were especially apt as a gift between two people who were to be apart for significant periods, such as a husband going to war or — as was perhaps the case here, a pair of lovers who could not seal their affection publicly.