Of Portraits, Tea Sets & Blog Comments

Sully portrait detailWe get some great comments on the blog–often funny, sometimes thought-provoking and nearly always interesting. Case in point: two comments from an old-but-not-forgotten post by Jill, who described a class discussion of a portrait of Udney Maria Blakely and a tea set:

Helen Rowe writes:

Udney Maria Blakely is a sort of distant relative of my husband’s. She married Joseph von Bretton, but she then died in childbirth or shortly afterwards the year after the marriage. Her baby daughter also died. However, some years later Joseph remarried, and he named his first born after his first wife (Udney Maria Blakely von Bretton). In researching the family history I had come across her story, and was therefore quite amazed to think that her portrait and the tea/coffee set have survived.

To which curator John Coffey responds:

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for dear Udney Maria. She never knew her naval hero father, but a grateful North Carolina made sure that the girl was brought up genteelly with funds provided by the public treasury. Thomas Sully’s adoring portrait, painted when the girl was fifteen, testifies to Udney Maria’s beauty and charm which would soon capture the heart of a Danish aristocrat. I love the story of the origins of the Blakely silver: in honor of her father’s gallantry, the State of North Carolina wished to present the Udney Maria with a ceremonial sword.  However, her sensible mother convinced the State that a coffee and tea service was more appropriate. And you have to marvel at the equanimity of the second Baroness von Bretton in acquiescing to the naming of her first child for her deceased predecessor. Udney Maria must have been an extraordinary young woman.

In the new American gallery, John has set the stage for this amazing story to be told again and again. Udney Maria’s tea service now sits just a step away from her lovely portrait. (It’s just one instance of where an interesting juxtaposition in the galleries sparks a whole new thought.)

Thomas Sully's portrait of Udney Maria Blakely with her tea service, on the left.

Thomas Sully's portrait of Udney Maria and her tea service, at left


  1. Chad
    Posted April 30, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a quick video on this story from WRAL http://www.wral.com/lifestyles/travel/video/7515222/

  2. Posted October 27, 2010 at 2:34 am | Permalink

    the arrangement is exquisite, im sure many people will appreciate seeing both her work in near proximity.

  3. Posted May 3, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    What a beautiful display and story. Thank You.

  4. Posted May 25, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    It is a wonderful idea to arrange the tea service near the portrait. I am sure I will visit the museum next time I am in North Carolina.

  5. Posted January 29, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    This is an interesting story. I had not heard of Udney Maria before, but the display you pictured is beautiful. I would love to see the tea service if I ever get to North Carolina. Thanks!

  6. Posted March 21, 2014 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    Really an amazing story. I really want to see this tea service once in my life such a beautiful place.Thanks for giving this beautiful tea set
    . …. and a great story too..

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