Though not firmly identified, this may be the same artist who created portraits of the Freake and Gibbs families—the artist thus known as the Freake-Gibbs painter. The few surviving portraits from this period provide valuable information about how the upper-middle class lived in colonial New England during the final decades of the seventeenth century. This group portrait in particular also illustrates the ways in which elite families telegraphed their status and power through their children.
This painting depicts the three children of Joanna and Arthur Mason, a prosperous Boston “biscake baker” who was described as “an officer of spirit and firmness.” The family’s wealth and refinement are embodied by their children, David (age eight), Joanna (age six), and Abigail Mason (age four), whose elaborate clothing and accessories indicate their elevated social position. The artist made sure to capture the lavish aspects of their dress since, although their attire is typical for the period, the finer details signal their privileged status. Massachusetts law during this period stated that extravagant fashions, such as the children’s slashed sleeves, as well as lace and ribbons, could be worn only by educated families, military families, magistrates, or those with an annual income in excess of two hundred pounds. The details of the Mason children’s clothing suggest their relative power within the larger social structures of the time.