Ann and Sarah Gordon, c. 1750 or 1751
Because John Hesselius was the painter of at least one and very probably both parents of these children, he is the likely candidate to have produced this image. Its grandiose landscape—though more probable in the wilderness of Virginia than in England—is in fact imaginary, taken from popular but outdated prints. The motifs of the held flower and the bird were common enough in those readily-available sources. The Virginia image seems more believable than its English prototypes, because it is simplified and pictures in the backdrop a plantation complex, perhaps meant to represent the family home Gordonsville, newly erected on Lancaster County property purchased in 1747.
Childrearing on the Virginia plantation involved separation of the sexes and instruction in gender-specific roles. From the evidence of this portrait, Ann (1743–1766) and Sarah Gordon (1747–1758), seven and three years old in 1750, were then already well instructed in genteel behavior befitting their family's newly attained dynastic status. They seem to have savored the role-playing assigned them.