A Jewish Family in Early New York

six portraits of the Levy-Franks family

Gerardus Duyckinck I (attributed), six portraits of the Levy-Franks family (Franks Children with Bird, Franks Children with Lamb, Jacob Franks, Moses Levy, Mrs. Jacob Franks (Abigaill Levy), and Ricka Franks), c. 1735, oil on canvas (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art). A conversation with Dr. Mindy Besaw, Curator of American Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and Dr. Beth Harris. A Seeing America video https://smarthistory.org/seeing-america-2/

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Portraits of the Levy-Franks Family

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Key points

  • This series of six paintings captures three generations of the Levy-Franks, a wealthy merchant family who were part of the small community of Jewish immigrants who settled in lower Manhattan. Their shipping empire supplied the British during the French & Indian War, carried goods on Caribbean trade routes, and possibly brought enslaved people to the Americas.
  • These portraits were created by a limner painter, who most likely had no formal training but certainly knew English mezzotints of the aristocracy. Their poses, dress, and accessories align the family with the upper class. The paintings would have conveyed their wealth and celebrated the family network.

Go deeper

See the series of paintings at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Learn more about the history of Jewish families in America

Read a history of Jewish merchants in colonial America and their role in the chocolate trade

View a mezzotint of Princess Anne (1709–1759) in a pose that would have inspired the portrait of Abigail Levy Franks

Read a review of the exhibition “The First Jewish Americans: Freedom and Culture in the New World” at the New York Times

Explore Abigaill Levy Franks’s digitized letters and other family papers at the Jewish Historical Society of America

Learn more about Gerardus Duyckinck I

More to think about

The portraits reinforce the wealth and social status of the Levy-Franks family, but also create a strong network between the members of three generations. Looking at the portraits together, how did the artist emphasize family connections and create a unified sense of community?