The portrait of this unidentified woman bears an uncanny resemblance to the portrait of Delilah Cook (Mrs. Levi) Johnson that was painted around the same time. Superficial similarities, such as the column and drape and atmospheric clouds in the background, can be attributed to conventions of the period. Both subjects are portrayed waist-length, with one arm crossed horizontally at the waist and holding a New Testament. Mrs. Johnson’s hand is presented flat against the picture plane, with one finger extended on the book’s spine. The woman in the Museum’s portrait holds the testament with only her thumb and index finger visible; both wear rings. Decorative neck pieces appear in each portrait, Mrs. Johnson wearing a beautiful beaded friendship ribbon draped over her shoulders and tucked into her waistband, probably with a watch at the end. The Museum’s subject has a lovely embroidered pink neck ribbon crossed over a deep lace collar with scalloped edges; a gold watch hangs from a long chain almost to her waist. Each has high cheekbones accentuated by rose tones and dark eyes with prominent shadows tracing the line from lid to brow. But the distinctive feature clearly uniting these two portraits is the very specific and almost identical shape of their noses.
It is unlikely that both portraits depict Delilah Cook Johnson, and in fact the Museum’s subject has a cleft in her chin, whereas Mrs. Johnson does not. Their resemblance, however, is surely more than coincidence; they may be sisters or close relations. It has been noted independently that each portrait resembles the work of an artist working in Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire once known as the Bordern Limner and since thought to possibly be John S. Blunt (1798–1835). However, despite similarities to the work of Blunt—the set of the jaw, the placement of the exposed ear in relation to the plane of the face- neither portrait exhibits the green tint in the flesh tones or the use of acid reds and greens most prominently associated with this artist’s work.
Delilah Cook married Levi Johnson during the 1830s, probably around the time her portrait was painted. Johnson was originally from Readfield, Maine, and moved to Canaan in 1830 after the death of his first wife. He was an attorney in Canaan and active in local and state government, representing Somerset County in the Maine State Senate for the year 1836. Little is known of Mrs. Johnson, and it has not been determined if she indeed had a sister; the couple had five children.
Stacy C. Hollander, "Woman with Pink Neck Ribbon," in American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 324.