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Harrison Gray Otis Portrait
This portrait of Harrison Gray Otis was completed in 1809 by famed portraitist Gilbert Stuart. At the time, Otis was serving his second term as Massachusetts Senate President. Otis is portrayed as a busy gentleman, hard at work although his clothing suggests refined leisure. Gilbert Stuart is most famous for his portraits of George Washington. Stuart painted a portrait of Sally Otis during the same year as a companion to this image of Harrison Gray Otis. Both portraits were likely on display at 45 Beacon Street, their home at the time of the paintings’ creation, and descended through the family.
Desk and Bookcase
William Foster (1745-1821), Sally Foster Otis’s father, owned this desk and bookcase. In 1775, following the battles at Lexington and Concord, the Fosters sought refuge from British soldiers at their country home in Brighton. On March 17, 1776, the British evacuated Boston and refugees started returning home.
This desk and bookcase had been left at the Foster home in Boston. When they returned, the piece was missing, apparently confiscated by the British troops and taken to the Province House, the headquarters of some British officers. William Foster had anticipated such an event and had written his name in chalk on the back of the drawers. The piece was reclaimed by the family and was handed down for generations before being donated to Historic New England. Foster’s name is still visible on the back of the drawers.
Needlework pictures were common projects for young ladies in the eighteenth century. Less common were the so-called "Fishing Lady" pictures, which usually show a woman fishing in the midst of a pastoral scene. This particular work is the largest of only seventeen known to be in existence, and descended in the Lowell family of Cambridge. Harrison Gray Otis’s aunt, Hannah Otis, who lived with the family for a time in this house, made an elaborate needlework piece in the mid-eighteenth century depicting a scene on the Boston Common, including the land on Beacon Hill that her nephew would later develop. It is fitting, then, that a similar needlework picture hangs today in the Otis House.
Trade with China reached its height of popularity in the eighteenth century. Before this time, Chinese porcelain was rare in the West, often only in the possession of kings and emperors. In 1784, the Empress of China became the first American vessel to travel to China. Specially ordered armorial porcelain, or porcelain painted with initials on a gilt-trimmed shield meant to mimic armorial porcelain, was a popular export. This punch bowl was owned by Harrison Gray Otis; "HGO" is visible in the center of the bowl. This bowl was kept in a hall niche in the Otis’s third home on Beacon Street, and according to family stories, was much used. Otis’s great-nephew, the historian Samuel Eliot Morison, wrote "…It is safe to stay that the punch-bowl on the stairs prevented the male members of the family from becoming thirsty during the afternoon…"
This pier mirror, one of a pair, is among the finest ever used in Boston. Close to seven and a half feet tall, with over-sized rope-turned columns supporting carved figures and a classical tablet across the top, the mirror is both huge and beautifully proportioned. The tablet depicts a scene from the Trojan War in which Agamemnon's heralds have arrived to take the captive slave Briseis away from Achilles. This pair of mirrors are thought to be the ones made by John Doggett (1771-1819) for merchant John Osborn, who bought the Otis House in 1801. Doggett was one of Boston's finest frame makers. The mirrors hang today between the windows of the two first-floor front rooms of the Otis House, exactly where, according to Osborn's inventory, they were placed nearly two hundred years earlier.