Christian Gullager : Sarah Woodhull Forman (1781–1811)
Christian Gullager (Sarah Woodhull Forman (1781–1811))

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Artist: Christian Gullager
Title: Sarah Woodhull Forman (1781–1811)
Year: c. 1797
Media: Oil on canvas, 37 × 27 inches
Description: Label (handwritten in ink) on verso: “Portrait of-/Sarah Woodhull For[man]/born 1781,died 1811./Mrs. Forman holding a book of music, as she composed music/Painted by Christian Gallagher./in circa 1797.”
Label (handwritten in ink) on verso: “Sara Woodhull Father’s/Aunt,/married Col. Forman”

Marvin Sadik has noted that during his early Boston period Gullager adapted his “provincial Danish portrait style to the kind of American primitive portraiture being plied in New England during the third quarter of the eighteenth century” by artists such as Winthrop Chandler (1747–1790).1 By the time Gullager left Boston he had developed an elegant rococo style that Dunlap characterized as “a dashy, sketchy manner,” adding that he “had been well instructed in the rudiments of drawing.”2

The sitter Sarah Woodhull was born on March 28, 1781, in Freehold, Monmouth County, New Jersey. She was the only daughter of Reverend John Woodhull, who served as minister of Old Tennent Presbyterian Church from 1778 to 1824 and operated a classical academy in Freehold. Sarah Woodhull married Major William Gordon Forman, also of Freehold, in 1806. It is said that her dowry was $80,000.3 A graduate of the College of New Jersey (renamed Princeton University in 1896), he became a lawyer and eventually moved to Natchez, Mississippi, where his family owned an estate. He is credited with having introduced Eli Whitney’s cotton gin to Mississippi and was Speaker of the House in the Territorial Legislature of Mississippi in 1803. Sarah Woodhull died in Natchez on November 13, 1811. Her husband was murdered by robbers the following year in Lexington, Kentucky, while he was taking their only child, Sarah Marsh Forman, to New Jersey.4

Although no evidence survives to verify that the sitter was a composer, as the inscription states, the allusion to her interest in music indicates that she was an educated and accomplished woman, as one would expect of the marriageable young daughter of a prominent clergyman and educator. Gullager may have executed this portrait of Sarah Woodhull during the late 1790s, around the time he painted a portrait of her elder brother Reverend George Spafford Woodhull which is owned by the Princeton University Art Museum.5


1. Marvin Sadik, Christian Gullager: Portrait Painter to Federal America [exh. cat.] (Washington, D.C.: National Portrait Gallery, 1976), p. 16.

2. Dunlap, History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design, p. 142.

3. Frank R. Symmes, History of the Old Tennent Church (Cranbury, N.J.: George W. Burroughs, 1904), p. 116.

4. William P. Forman, Records of the Descendants of John Foreman (Cleveland, Ohio: Short and Forman, 1885), p. 20, and Anne Spottswood Dandridge, The Forman Genealogy (Cleveland, Ohio: Forman-Bassett-Hatch, 1903), pp. 98–99.

5. Donald Drew Egbert, Princeton Portraits (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1947), pp. 193–95, notes that the early authority William Sawitzky had attributed the Princeton portrait to Gullager and suggested that it had been painted in the 1790s, but went on to suggest an alternative date of c. 1808.

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Price: Price upon request
Inventory: RS 3315
Category: •a:American•a:Boston•a:Danish•a:New Jersey•a:New York•eighteenth century•female•genre•music•New Jersey•portrait•
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