Back in 2015 we shared Beauty Revealed, a unique 1828 self-portraiture of artist Sarah Goodridge’s breasts that she gifted to Daniel Webster. Now in A Relationship Revealed, author Cassandra Good gives us considerable analysis of what that says (or doesn’t) about the relationship between Goodridge and Webster:

Goodridge traveled to Washington in 1828 to give Webster the unusual image soon after Webster’s wife died. It is possible that with Webster now single, Goodridge felt more comfortable acknowledging an existing or budding sexual attraction. Goodridge could have easily painted a conventional self-portrait miniature to give to Webster on that 1828 visit, knowing that even such a gift would signify to him (and anybody who became aware of the gift) a romantic relationship. But the work she created and named “Beauty Revealed” was groundbreaking both in terms of art and social norms. This miniature, too, could be held close, but it was openly sexual. It clearly attested to an erotic and possibly sexual relationship between Webster and Goodridge.

We can only speculate about what this image meant to Goodridge and Webster. The gift of only a part of her body, one that is both sexual and maternal, might have gestured to Goodridge’s continuing command over her own body. As a friend or even lover, Webster did not have the unfettered access to her body that a husband would. Goodridge could choose what to reveal to him, and how much to give. But for all the sexual intimacy of this image, it still appears that the pair’s relationship was primarily one of friendship. It seems unlikely that the pair considered marrying. Goodridge would have had to give up her artistic career, independence, and home in Boston. Less than two years after his wife’s death, Webster married a woman fifteen years his junior, but his friendship with Goodridge continued another two decades. They were rarely in the same place, so much of their relationship would have been conducted through letters and was thus by necessity not at most times a physical one. The miniature’s revelation is thus all the more surprising.

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