Folk Portrait Artists
Please view the Ruth Henshaw Bascom portrait currently in inventory on the Portraits page.
Ruth Henshaw Bascom (1772-1848)
Ruth Henshaw was born the oldest of 10 children, in Leicester, Massachusetts, to William (1735-1820) and Phebe Swan Henshaw (1753-1808). In 1804 at the age of 32, Ruth married Dr. Asa Miles (1762-1805) and moved to Westminster, Mass. He died a year after their marriage and Ruth returned to Leicester to by near to her family. During her time as a single widow, Ruth established a millinery business. Ruth married Rev. Lysander Bascom (1779-1841) in 1806 and moved to Phillipston where Rev. Bascom served as minister of the Congregational Church. Ruth never had children of her own but raised Bascom’s only child by his second marriage, Priscilla and the son of Bascom’s sister Eunice Loveland. In 1820, the Bascoms moved to Ashby, Massachusetts where Rev. Bascom served a church for 14 years. After Rev. Bascom’s retirement, he spent winters in Savannah, Georgia with his daughter for health reasons. Ruth, however, stayed in New England during those winters, visiting with friends and relatives while doing profiles. Around 1839 the Bascoms moved to Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire where the Reverend deems to have served a church on a semi-retired basis. He died in Fitzwilliam in 1841. Ruth spent her remaining years boarding in Ashby and traveling throughout Massachusetts and Maine. Rev. and Ruth Bascom are buried next to each other at Ashby First Parish Burial Ground. On her headstone is engraved the name “RUTHY H. BASCOM” and the note, “wife of Rev. E.L. Bascom, died Feb. 19, 1848, aged 75 years.”
Ruth Henshaw began keeping a diary in 1789 at the age of 14, and continued to do so for the rest of her life. She started a new volume every year and 54 volumes of her diaries were gifted to the American Antiquarian Society by Mary D. Thurston and Caroline Thurston in 1948. (The volumes for a few years are missing.) The diaries have provided scholars with a remarkably detailed description of everyday life of a New England woman in the 19th century and seemingly complete record of Bascom’s remarkably large body of artwork. Her diaries record nearly 1000 works of art.
Ruth’s first entry discussing the profiles that she drew and cut was made in 1801. The frequency of her discussions of profiles increases greatly in the 1820s and 1830s. There are only a few notations of receiving money for her sketches although scholars have written that Ruth stayed in New England during those winters when her husband went south not only to visit friends and relatives but to add to the finances of the family through her artwork.
Ruth’s profiles were made by placing her sitter before a paper and drawing the outline of the shadow. Unlike most silhouette artists of her day, Ruth did not attempt to reduce the size of the drawn profile, opting instead to fill it in with pastels (called crayons in the period). Her profiles have an abstract and soft feel achieved by her use of soft colors to fill in the precise outline and delineation of the ear, eye and a few other facial features. She sometimes added her own special touches such as cutting the profile out and placing it on a colored background or adding bits of tin or beads to the portrait as jewelry or buttons. Most of the backgrounds of Ruth’s work is done with a solid pastel crayon, she did some profiles on an abstract background of crayon. While we associate Bascom with full size pastel portraits, she also did some silhouettes. Of special note are 2 full-length, but reduced in size, cut and paste silhouettes of Chin-Sung, a Chinese teacher who spent several months in 1841 at Leicester Academy where he studied English. Her cut silhouettes of the young Chinese man in his “native costume” are very detailed and the departure from her usual full-size pastel profiles is her interest in his clothing. Chin-Sung captured interest everywhere. He also visited Washington, DC where his silhouette was taken by master silhouettist Augustin Edouart. Bascom’s silhouettes of Chin-Sung are in the collection of Old Sturbridge Village.
Avigad, Lois S., "Ruth Henshaw Bascom: A Youthful Viewpoint", The Clarion Vol. 12, No. 4 (Fall 1987) Museum of American Folk Art,, New York, 1987. 35-41.
Bascom, Ruth Henshaw, Summary of Papers 1789-1848, American Antiquarian Society Manuscript Collections, http://www.americanantiquarian.org/Findingaids/ruth_henshaw_bascom.pdf
Rumsford, Beatrix, American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Boston: Little Brown, in association with Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (1981). 49-50.
Sloat, Caroline F., ed., Meet Your Neighbors: New England Portraits, Painters & Society 1790-1850, Old Sturbridge Village, distr. University of Massachusetts Press, 1992. 74, 81-82, 100, 111, 119.
Please view the Ruth Henshaw Bascom currently in inventory on the Portraits page.
Zedekiah Belknap (1781-1858)
Zedekiah Belknap was born in Ward, Massachusetts (later renamed, Auburn) to Zedekiah (sometimes listed as Hezekiah) and Elizabeth (née Waite). He graduated, in 1807, from Dartmouth College where he studied divinity. The Catalogue of the officers and members of the Society of Social Friends, Dartmouth College, lists him as Reverend Zedekiah Belknap in 1839 and shows his residence as Boston. He married Sophia Sherwin of Maine, but there are no records of them having children. Belknap worked as an itinerant artist, painting portraits in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. There is no record of Belknap having received professional art training. His early paintings show an effort to paint in an academic manner. However, like many folk artists, Belknap soon developed a formulistic method of portrait painting that pleased his middle-class clientele. This formula allowed him to paint rapidly and efficiently.
His work is striking in that the mostly full-size images are bold and decorative. His sitters are boldly outlined with little modeling. His work is distinctive in that he always depicted only one side of the nose, outlining its profile with a heavy reddish shadow. The facial features are prominently depicted with full mouths, sharply outlined round eyes and flat, red ears. The women in his portraits are featured with strongly accented corkscrew curls, arched eyebrows, boldly painted lace and jewelry, giving these portraits strong decorative appeal.
Late in his career, Belknap began to depict his sitters in a more realistic, less decorative, manner. It is believed that this change in style was a reaction to popularity of the new daguerreotype which was overtaking the desire for more expensive portraits. His last known dated portrait is 1848, 10 years before his death. He ended his days on his farm in Springfield, Vermont, cared for by his sister and her husband.
Belknap's work is included in the collections of major art museums such as Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Fenimore Art Museum and The Detroit Institute of Arts.
Baker, Mary Eva, Folklore of Springfield, Springfield, Vt.: The Altrurian Club, 1922, online at Ancestory.com.
Krashes, David, "An Appreciation of Nineteenth-Century Folk Portraits", Antiques & Fine Art Magazine online.
Rumsford, Beatrix, American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Boston: Little Brown, in association with Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (1981) p. 57-60.
John Brewster, Jr., (1766-1854)
John Brewster, Jr. (1766-1854) was born in Hampton, Connecticut to Dr. John Brewster and his first wife, Mary Durkee. John, Jr. was born deaf at a time when there was no established, commonly used sign language. This fact certainly made his chosen profession of itinerant painter even more challenging than the norm. But he had been born into a socially-connected family, and descended from Elder William Brewster, who led the Pilgrims to America on the Mayflower. His family connections allowed him to move easily between the socially elite of Connecticut, Maine and New York where he plied his trade as an itinerant artist. Brewster’s deafness certainly colored his world and influenced his art which is exhibited in many major museums. Art historians have labeled his paintings as “masterpieces” and “landmark” of American painting. In his book on Brewster, Harlan Lane argues that “Brewster was not an artist who incidentally was Deaf but rather a Deaf artist, one in a long tradition that owes many of its features and achievements to the fact that Deaf people, are,…, visual people.”1.
Brewster began his career as a painter around 1790, when he painted full-length portraits of his father and step-mother. He studied with a local artist, Reverend Joseph Steward who was influenced by the work of Ralph Earl. It appears that Earl’s work also influenced Brewster, however, Brewster developed a much simpler formula which became a backbone of American folk portraiture.
He moved to Maine with family members in 1796 and painted the majority of his identified portraits there. We know by his newspaper advertisements, that Brewster spent some of the first years of the 19th century in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He interrupted his painting for a time when, at the age of 51 in 1817, he entered the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons in Hartford. His year of enrollment was the first year of the opening of the Connecticut Asylum, which was the first American school for the deaf. Brewster remained at the school for three years, during which he paid his own tuition, presumably from money earned with his painting. It was during Brewster’s time at the Connecticut Asylum that American Sign Language was developed.
Brewster’s portraits have long been recognized as some of the strongest likenesses produced by an itinerant artist during this period of the New Republic. His work is known for serene expressions, clearly delineated features and delicate flesh tones. It is said that the expressiveness with which Brewster painted the eyes of his subjects may be due to the great importance of eyes and sight to the deaf-mute artist.
1. Lane, Harlan, A deaf Artist in Early America, The Worlds of John Brewster Jr., Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 2004, xvi.
American Folk Art Museum, Exhibition, A Deaf Artist in Early America: The Worlds of John Brewster Jr., October 4, 2006–January 7, 2007,
Cotter, Holland, “"Intense Visions by a Painter Who Couldn’t Hear”, New York Times, October 6, 2006,
Lane, Harlan, A deaf Artist in Early America, The Worlds of John Brewster Jr., Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 2004.
Please view the Brewster portrait miniature currently in stock on the Portraits page.
A. Charles (born circa 1768;active 1786-1807)
A. Charles is known for his portrait miniatures and silhouettes, which he painted on card, glass and on ivory. His story is interesting in that he seems to have perpetually elevated his standing in his advertisements. He advertised himself as the "Original Inventor of painting on glass", an endorsement that was, in all likelihood, not true. Although silhouettists and painters of the late 18th century were given to self-endorsement, Charles was a braggart to the point of drawing public criticism. He advertised that he was a Royal Academician, which he was not. He also advertised that he had studied "the Italian, Flemish, and all the great Schools," of which there is no confirming record. When he began to advertise himself as the artist to the Prince (which was a true statement) and raised his prices, a blistering criticism was printed in the London paper...which shows that Charles was definitely a well-known profilist who was in direct competition with the great John Miers and Mrs. Beetham. Had he been an artist who waltzed through life unnoticed, he might have gotten away with his boasts. Since he was obviously in the public eye and compared to his contemporaries, his boasting became a public embarrassment.
The Da Lee Family: Justus Da Lee (1793-1878), Amon G.J. Da Lee (1820-1879), Richard W.M. Da Lee (1809-1868)
Long recognized as one of the great American folk art portrait artists, reliable information about Justus Da Lee and his family have only recently been published.1 Painstakingly rendered watercolor, pencil, and ink portrait miniatures, such as the one offered, and elaborate family records have long been attributed to Da Lee. Now we know that portrait painting was a family business in which Justus enlisted the help of his son Amon and his brother Richard. Born in Pittstown, New York, the obviously artistically inclined Justus enlisted in the Cambridge militia during the War of 1812, where he served as a musician. After his war duties, the highly educated Justus served as a school teacher until he lost his job for "usurping government." By 1826, Justus exhibited his artistic ability in a sketchbook entitled "Emblematical Figures, Representations & To Please The Eye." Justus referred to himself in the sketchbook as a "professor of penmanship."
Justus' painting career appears to have begun in the early-1830s. He painted a family record printed which he then further embellished with figures, flowers and decorative elements. It is at this time that he also began painting the distinctive small profile portraits for which he is best known. Justus taught his son Amon and his brother Richard to paint portraits. A 1837 letter from Justus to Richard states that painting had become a family business. Justus' own letters tell us that when he arrived in a new town, he distributed advertising cards to homes along a single street. The next day, he returned to the houses, showing samples and taking commissions. His prices were "3 dol. for a single one, set [framed]--or 5 dol. for husband & wife, set,' and a price of $2.50 each if the whole family was painted. Unlike most itinerant watercolor profilists of the era, Justus took his time painting the profiles stating "I detained some of them from 1 or 2 hours being determined to give the very best satisfaction." Perhaps it was the slow, deliberate perfectionist quality of the Da Lee work that brought about the end of the family portrait business.
Letters from Justus and from Richard show that they often complained that, although everyone was pleased with their work, their itinerant trips only took in a small amount of money. In 1845, Justus wrote "Amon . . . has given up going out to take ports anymore, it does not agree with him at all . . . this portrait business is calculated to kill us all." By 1848, two business directories in Buffalo, NY list Justus as an artist but also list Justus & Amon as grocers. Apparently, painting was no longer a full time occupation for the Da Lee family. The 1850 census lists Justus as a teacher and by 1856, records show that Justus was blind and penniless. He died in 1871 while living with his daughter Harriet in Wisconsin.
Thanks to the scholarship of Suzanne Rudnick Payne and Michael Payne, we now know that portraits previously attributed to Justus Da Lee must be attributed to the Justus Da Lee family. The Paynes tell us that known examples of work by Amon are "confusingly similar" to the work of Justus. There are no known signed examples of Richard's work but the portrait of Richard's son indicates that Richard's work was also very similar. Moreover, much of the work seems to have been a collaborative affair as Justus wrote in 1839 that Amon was painting the dresses and Justus was doing the rest of the portrait.
The Paynes describe the Da Lee portraits as follows:
"These small profile portraits were executed in watercolor, pencil, and ink with meticulous detail and delicacy using minute brushwork. A few portraits were painted on paper, but the vast majority was done on stiff bristol board, as it was called when the portraits were made. Ink and pencil were used to delineate the facial features and hair, and then watercolor was used to render flesh tones, hair, and clothing. Gum-arabic glazed highlights were used to further define the details of the clothing. Small details, such as jewelry and hair ornaments, were always so finely rendered that they invite examination with a magnifying glass. The portraits have an unusual delicacy and quality of detail."
The faces in adult portraits were always presented in profile. Men's bodies were always profile. A few of the earliest of the women's portraits were painted with a full frontal pose. By the 1840s the Da Lees were using both a three-quarter frontal and a profile pose for the women. Most of the portraits are contained within solid-black painted oval spandrels and many have blue wash along the inside of the spandrel. Although it has been surmised that the black painted spandrel was in the style of daguerreotypes, the Da Lees were using this format in the 1830s before daguerreotypes were widely offered.
Anderson, Marna A Loving Likeness American Folk Portraits of the Nineteenth Century, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (1992) 11-13.
Brownstein, Joan R. & Shushan, Elle, "Side Portrait Painters, Differentiating the DaLee Family Artists", The Magazine Antiques, July-August 2011. Click the link to read the pdf article posted on Elle Shushan's website.
Payne, Suzanne Rudnick and Michael Payne, "To Please The Eye Justus Da Lee and His Family", Folk Art Magazine, 47 (Winter 2004/2005). Pdf copy of article published with permission of the American Folk Art Museum. (The article is contained in a large pdf file and may take a while to load onto your computer. It has beautiful color photos and is worth the wait.)
Rumsford, Beatrix, American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Boston: Little Brown, in association with Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (1981) p. 77-79.
1Biographical information and description of the Da Lee family work gleaned from Suzanne Rudnick Payne and Michael Payne, "To Please The Eye, Justus Da Lee and His Family", Folk Art Magazine, 47 (Winter 2004/2005).
Please view the Justus Dalee portrait currently in inventory on the Portraits pages
J.A. Davis (1821-1855)
When Jane Anthony Davis signed her work, it was as "J.A. Davis" and until research done by Arthur and Sybil Kern in 1981, she was thought to be a man, probably from Rhode Island or Connecticut. Through meticulous research and the discovery of family descendents, the Kerns learned that Jane Anthony was born in Rhode Island on September 24, 1821, married Edward Nelson Davis of Connecticut in 1841 and died in Rhode Island at the young age of 33 on April 28, 1855. Ms. Davis attended the Warren Ladies Seminary in Warren, Rhode Island for at least two terms in 1838. All of her known dated portraits were painted after her education at the Seminary. This suggests that the seventeen year old Jane may have begun painting seriously while attending the Seminary. From found dated portraits, Ms. Davis appears to have taken two breaks from her portrait painting: first the years 1840 to 1842--a hiatus probably attributed to Jane preparing for her wedding and then moving to Connecticut; second from 1844 to 1848--coinciding with Mr. and Ms. Davis moving back to Rhode Island and the birth of Jane's second child. The last dated portrait found was painted on April 28, 1855, just eight months prior to the death of Jane Anthony Davis. She is buried in Providence, Rhode Island at Swan Point Cemetery.
Davis typically drew the entire composition of her portraits in pencil prior to her thin application of watercolor which she used in a naive style. She painted faces with an opaque bluish-white watercolor and added detailed facial features with graphite. Davis' sitters are almost always costumed completely in black with color only being used to highlight the penciled facial figures and other objects in the composition. She favored a 4" x 5" format of thin paper for her work.
Anderson, Marna A Loving Likeness American Folk Portraits of the Nineteenth Century, (Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (1992). 14-15.
Kern, Arthur B. and Kern, Sybil B., "Genealogy and Historical Research: "On the Importance of Genealogical Methodology in Researching Early New England Folk Portraitists", The Art of Family, Genealogical Artifacts in New England, Ed. D. Brenton Simons & Peter Benes, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston 2002. 248-54.
Rumsford, Beatrix, American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Boston: Little Brown, in association with Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (1981). 79-82.
Joseph H. Davis (1811-1865) (active 1832-1837)
Approximately 160 watercolor folk portraits have been attributed to Joseph H. Davis since his work was identified in the 1930s. However, little was known about the artist until the biographical research done by Arthur and Sybil Kern. The Kerns confirmed the common speculation that the artist Davis was the man from Limington, Maine known as "Pine Hill Joe." Pine Hill Joe was remembered as "a farmer inclined to suddenly leave his farm to go wandering from town to town 'painting pictures of people on little sheets of paper.'"2
According to the Kerns, Joseph H. Davis was born on August 10, 1811 to Joseph and Phebe (née Small) Davis in Limington, Maine. He was 21 years old when the first of his known portraits was painted in 1832. Davis is known to have painted in the Lebanon-Berwick area of Maine and Dover-Somersworth area of New Hampshire. Many of his subjects had a connection with the Freewill Baptist Church, leading to supposition that Davis was connected with this church. Davis married Elizabeth Patterson on November 5, 1835. Five days after the marriage, the first of what was to become many land transactions was recorded in what was apparently Davis' new profession as a land trader.
Davis' most prolific years of painting appear to be 1835 to 1837, after which no dated paintings have been found. [The painting pictured here appears to negate the previous statement as the inscription on the verso of the frame dates it at 1838. However, the inscription does not appear to be contemporary with the painting and family history often includes errors.] He may have increased his production of paintings to support his new wife. Both the increase of his success as a land trader and the impending birth of his daughter in 1838 may have contributed to the end of his career as an artist in 1837. Perhaps he felt the need for less travel than was required by an itinerant artist and perhaps the land trading business paid him more handsomely than the art business in which he charged only $1.50 per portrait.3 After the last known portrait was painted in 1837, the Davises moved often, living in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Jersey. His success as a land trader is indicated by numerous recorded deeds. Joseph H. Davis' death is listed in the records of Woburn, Massachusetts as follows: "Davis, Joseph H., son of Joseph and Phebe (b. in Limington, Me.), of disease of liver. May 28, 1865, 53y.9m.18d."
As an artist, the work of Joseph H. Davis stands out as a stunning example of the American Fancy Period of the 1830s even though his work is naïve and obviously self-taught. He depicts his sitters in profile, with their bodies slightly turned to reveal more of their clothing. Single figures generally face the right. Couples generally face each other, whether painted together or in two individual paintings. The great majority of his work depicts sitters in full length, although five half-length recorded portraits have been attributed to Davis. The trademark of Davis' work is his glorious use of color and pattern in the vibrant floorcloths or patterned floor decoration that he placed under most of his subjects' feet and the garishly grained or paint decorated tables and chairs he included in family portraits. These family or couples portraits portray a variety of personal accessories that are likely more symbolic than real. Davis often included the exterior of the couple's homestead in a painting that he placed on the background wall (which was usually elaborately swagged). Women often carried colorful patterned reticules or purses. Several portraits include a cat. Books symbolized the education of the family and the inclusion of a bible represented their faith. Davis' settings are based on an artificial formula that varied little from painting to painting. That said, they are fabulous examples of the exuberance of the American Fancy Period and were surely loved by their consignors because they depicted the sitters in the American middle-class dream parlors of the 1830s. The portraits and accoutrements were drawn on wove paper in pencil and then painted in with watercolor. Some of his work included an inscription across the bottom with the names of the sitters, sometimes their ages, birthdates, and hometown. As of 1992, only six signed works had been found. One of the six was signed "Joseph H. Davis/Left Hand/Painter."
Anderson, Marna A Loving Likeness American Folk Portraits of the Nineteenth Century, (Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (1992). 16-17.
D'Ambrosio, Paul S. and Emans, Charlotte M., Folk Art's Many Faces: Portraits in the New York State Historical Association, New York State Historical Ass'n, Cooperstown 1987. 58-64
Kern, Arthur B. and Kern, Sybil B., "Genealogy and Historical Research: "On the Importance of Genealogical Methodology in Researching Early New England Folk Portraitists", The Art of Family, Genealogical Artifacts in New England, Ed. D. Brenton Simons & Peter Benes, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston 2002. 254-59.
Rumsford, Beatrix, American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Boston: Little Brown, in association with Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (1981). 83-87.
Savage, Gail & Norbert H., and Sparks, Esther, Three New England Watercolor Painters. Art Institute of Chicago, 1974. 22-41.
2Kern, supra at 97, (quoting Sinney, Frank O., Primitive Painters in America: An Anthology by Jean Lipman and Alice Winchester (New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1950).
3D'Ambrosio, supra at 59.
William M.S. Doyle, American Silhouettist (1769-1828)
William M.S. Doyle was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1769. His father was a British soldier, but Doyle seems to have lived and worked his entire life in Boston. Doyle was a silhouettist, artist of portraits of both full-size and miniature. He worked in silhouette cutting, watercolor, oil and pastel. His silhouettes were beautifully rendered in hollow cut or paint (sometimes painted on plaster in the manner of Miers).
Doyle did not confine himself to his artistic endeavors. Indeed from 1806 until his death in 1828, Doyle, in partnership with Daniel Bowen, was one of the owners of the Columbian Museum. Together, the two men built a five story building in 1806 to house the museum. The five story building in 1806 towered over the surrounding landscape like a skyscraper! Unfortunately, the building burned to the ground in 1807, and the two men built a smaller building which they used for the museum until 1825.
In 1811, Doyle placed the following advertisement:
Wm. M.S. Doyle
Miniature and Profile Painter
TREMONT STREET, BOSTON, next House north of the Stone-Chapel, the late residence of R.G. AMORY esq. Continues to execute Likenesses in Miniature and Profiles of various sizes (the latter in shade or natural colors) in a style peculiarly striking and elegant, whereby the most forcible animation is obtained.
Some are finished on composition in the manner of the celebrated Meirs of London.
Prices of Profiles—from 25 cents to 1, 2, & 5 dollars.
Miniatures—12, 15, 18 and 20 dollars.
Doyle’s silhouettes certainly live up to his salesmanship in that they are “peculiarly striking and elegant” and “the most forcible animation” truly is obtained. Rarely do they come onto the market. What few there were (for Doyle did more portrait painting that silhouette cutting or painting) have all been snapped up into private collections and museums.
In 1806, Henry Williams joined the business with Doyle and Bowen. Advertisements soon afterwards placed by Williams and Doyle announced “Miniature and Portrait Painters at the Museum: where profiles are correctly cut.” Doyle and Williams collaborated until at least 1815. Doyle became the sole proprietor of the Columbian Museum in 1808 and continued until his death.
Doyle’s style in portrait miniatures varied considerably over time. It is said that Doyle greatly benefited from working with Williams on his painting skills. Fortunately, Doyle signed and dated many of his miniatures so that they can be identified despite his varied styles. His early work is characterized by strong use of line to draw the hair and facial features and distinctive diagonal striations in the background. Doyle’s later work shows paint applied in broad washes and shadows and folds emphasized with gum arabic. His subjects, usually male, are placed left of the center, facing right.
Falk, Peter Hastings (ed.), Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975. Sound View Press, 1999. 955.
Foskett, Daphne, Miniatures Dictionary and Guide. Antique Collectors Club, Suffolk, England, 1987. 531.
Johnson, Dale, American Portrait Miniatures In The Manney Collection. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1990. 114 & Plates 76, 77.
Strickler, Susan E., American Portrait Miniatures The Worcestor Art Museum Collection. Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts, 1989. 52-54.
Charles Allen DuVal (1808-1872)
Charles Allen DuVal was born in Ireland in 1808 (see below for an update on his date and place of birth). He took up painting after a jaunt at sea. Around 1833, Duval moved to Manchester, England where he developed a large following for his paintings. In Miniatures Dictionary and Guide, Daphne Foskett called him a “witty writer” and I found evidence that Duval contributed articles for North of England Magazine and authored pamphlets about the American Revolutionary War. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1836-1872 and also in Manchester and Liverpool. Duval had a large audience for his paintings in London where he also worked and was said to be “a good artist.” He painted portraits, figure subjects, and portrait miniatures. He was an engraver and lithographer.
In 1865, Duval lent a miniature portrait to the South Kensington Museum for exhibit. The catalogue for that exhibit incorrectly recorded his name as Du Val – a mistake that is often repeated.
Duval’s work currently resides in the collections of the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Note--I received an email from DuVal's great-great-granddaughter who says she has a copy of a document in DuVal's own handwriting in which he gives his date of birth as 19th March 1810. She also tells me that although his parents were Irish and DuVal spent his early years in Ireland, in the censuses he gave his place of birth as Beaumaris, Anglesey, Wales. He resided in Manchester, England starting in his early twenties. Thanks so much to his descendent for the information!
See website Charles Allen Du Val His Life and Works for more information.
Emily Eastman (1804 -?) (active 1820s & 1830s)
Emily Eastman’s work represents the best of early 19th century American folk art. She worked in watercolors and graphite on paper or Bristol board. Her paintings are delightfully naïve, mostly representing stylishly dressed young women with carefully delineated details such as jewelry, lace, hair curls and hair adornments. It has long been thought that Eastman’s work was based on fashion plates of the time period, although no specific prints have been identified as the foundation for her work. Like so many folk artists of the period, Eastman rarely signed her work. Her paintings are attributed based on her use of pencil or thin watercolor to draw the outlines of her subjects which she then filled with washes of rich color. Precise lines form delicately and highly arched eyebrows, small bowed mouths, the outline of noses and tight hair curls. Eastman used sophisticated poses with bodies and heads slightly turned for an elegant effect. Her work is stylized, simple, highly decorative and shows a repetitive use of poses, formats, styles of dress, hair and facial features: all hallmarks of American folk art in which these repetitive or formulistic portraits were desirable and represented the sitters' social and economic standing. The ladies portrayed are, by all appearances, wealthy and would have had a strong social standing in their communities. There is one known portrait of a child attributed to Eastman. All other known pieces are of young women.
Emily Eastman was born in 1804 in Louden, New Hampshire. She married Dr. Daniel Baker in 1824. She was actively painting during the 1820s and 1830s. Virtually nothing else is currently known about her life.
Eastman’s work is included in collections of great museums across the country.
Emily Eastman Works in the Following Museum Collections (click the link for online images and/or information):
American Folk Art Museum:
Woman in Veil This portrait was a promised gift of Ralph Esermian. Because of his legal difficulties, I’m not sure whether the painting is still part of the museum collection, but an image is available at the link.
Boston Museum of Fine Arts:
National Gallery of Art:
Curls and Ruffles (no online image available)
Smithsonian American Art Museum:
Woman with Roses in Hair (no online image)
Terra Foundation for American Art:
Please view the Eastman portrait currently in inventory on the Portraits pages
Jacob Eichholtz (1776-1842)
Jacob Eichholtz was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania November 2, 1776. He started his professional life as a coppersmith. He took painting lessons from Thomas Sully at least as early as 1808, but he was unable to devote himself to art until 1811. In 1812, he studied under Gilbert Stuart in Boston. Eichholtz was a regular exhibitor at the Society of Artists and the Pennsylvania Academy. Although he made occasional visits to Baltimore and Washington, Eichholtz lived and worked primarily in Lancaster and Philadelphia.
Eichholtz was recently the subject of an exhibition held concurrently at three institutions: the Lancaster County Historical Society (project headquarters), the Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster County (now the Lancaster Cultural History Museum), and the Phillips Museum of Art at Franklin & Marshall College. A catalog of that exhibition was written by Thomas R. Ryan.
Eichholtz' wood panel portraits tended to be small, painted inside a faux oval and painted in profile. His canvas portraits tended to be larger, painted more academically with sitters facing the viewer. The small, wood panel portraits are favored by collectors of folk art who like the naïveté which he tends to exhibit less in his larger portraits. Only one Eichholtz-signed wood panel portrait is known to exist. All other known Eichholtz wood panel profile portraits are attributed on the basis of that one signed profile. Each sitter in Eichholtz' wood panel portraits is painted in profile, half length and without hands showing. His earliest wood panel profiles have a somber shaded background within an oval surround. By 1810, Eichholtz had pretty much discountinued the shaded backgrounds, instead using more monochromatic backgrounds painted in browns and black. The wood panels are always close to 7" x 9". Eichholtz is known to have painted these wood panel profiles from 1801 until about 1818.
Rumford, Beatrix T. (ed.) American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. New York Graphic Society, 1981. 91-92.
Ryan, Thomas R. (ed.) The Worlds of Jacob Eichholtz, Portrait Painter of the Early Republic, Lancaster Country Historical Society, 2003.
James Sanford Ellsworth (1802/03 - 1874)
James Ellsworth was born to John and Huldah Ellsworth somewhere in Connecticut in either 1802 or 1803. On May 23, 1830, Ellsworth married Mary Ann Driggs in Harford, Connecticut. The couple had a son (rather scandalously it must be presumed), William Leyard Ellsworth, on November 15, 1829. In 1831, James and Mary had a second son, Edward Ellsworth. In 1839, Mary Ann Driggs Ellsworth obtained a divorce from the painter, claiming James deserted the family in 1833.
James Ellsworth painted miniature watercolor folk portraits from about 1835 to 1855. He worked primarily in Connecticut and Massachusetts but is also known to have traveled to Pennsylvania and Ohio (where he complained to have been shot at by a mob who suspected him of being a Confederate). As of 1980, there were 263 known miniatures by Ellsworth and eight oil portraits. He is known for his remarkable talent for portraying the character of his sitters in their portraits. Faces are skillfully modeled. The color of eyes and shape of brows are expertly rendered. Likenesses are presumably very accurate as they are uncompromising so as to depict some of his sitters as plain, homely and even toothless. Hairstyles and dress document the actual country fashions of the period and places where he worked. Ellsworth had a problem depicting hands and so often hid them entirely or showed the hands folded or holding an object. Books, flowers, fans, handkerchiefs, birds are all props that can be found in his works. All but seven known Ellsworth miniatures are painted in profile. He depicted his figures with more negative space left behind the figure than in front.
Ellsworth's backgrounds produce a most clever device that one has come to expect from an Ellsworth miniature. His sitters are placed in front of cloverleaf clouds which wisp behind their heads and seem to support them in air. "His scalloped clouds support almost all of the sitters so that, though only some are chairborne, almost all are airborne." See Lipman at 71. The clouds give an illusion of depth. Men usually emerge from the support clouds at their waist while women rise from their hips. Some of his figures are seated in one of six basic patterns of chairs. The chairs are whimsical, unreal and never completely shown. They are all upholstered and have natural, stained or painted wood chairs. Ellsworth may have seen these chairs as his trademark because the majority of the portraits with chairs are left unsigned.
The usual size for his miniatures was 2 7/8" x 2 1/2" and painted on thin paper mounted to a heavier stock. He also did some larger miniatures, about 3 1/2" x 4 1/2". He painted a few miniatures on embossed paper or envelopes used for Valentines. He often framed his miniatures in a narrow, half-inch mahagoney veneer, fitted with blown glass, secured at the back with glazier's points and hung with a wire ring at the top of the frame. Ellsworth is known to have used 13 different whimsical signatures, including: "ELLSWORTH PAINTER"; " J.S. Ellsworth, Painter"; "J.S.E. Ptr."; "J.S.E. Pr."; "J.S. Ellsworth, Portrait Painter"; "Ja. S. Ellsworth, Portrait Painter"; "James S. Ellsworth, Painter"; "James S. Ellsworth, portrait painter" with a flourish beneath; "J.S. Ellsworth, px."; "J.S. Ellsworth, pinx"; "James Sanford Ellsworth", "Sanford Ellsworth", and "J.S. Ellsworth, del.".
Exhibits: "The Paintings of James Sanford Ellsworth, Itinerant Folk Artist 1802-1873", Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection, October 13 - December 1, 1974.
Lipman, Jean & Armstrong, Tom, eds., American Folk Painters of Three Centuries. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, 1980. 70-73.
Mitchell, Lucy B., The Paintings of James S. Ellsworth, Itinerant Folk Artist 1802-1873, Exhibition Catalog. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation 1974.
Rumford, Beatrix T. (ed.) American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. New York Graphic Society, 1981. 92-93.
J.H. Gillespie, Profile Artist (1793-after 1849)
James H. Gillespie started his career as a painter of miniature portraits and silhouettes in England as early as 1810, although the earliest known dated example of his work was done in 1816. He crossed the globe to enter Nova Scotia in the 1820s. From Canada, he migrated into the United States where he is known to have worked in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Maine. His advertisements tell us that he charged 25 cents for plain black profiles, 50 cents for profiles shaded in black, 1 dollar to finish the silhouettes in bronze and 2 dollars for “Features neatly painted in colours.” The outlines for his silhouettes and portraits were achieved by means of “several mechanical and optical instruments.” His demand was so great that, to save time that the sitter needed be present, he took outlines of the sitters in the morning and completed the rest of the portrait later that same day. The demand for Gillespie's work also allowed him to increase the price of his color portraits from $2 to $4 by the time he hit Baltimore in 1837. By 1842, Gillespie's U.S. tour was finished and he was working in Toronto, where he stayed until at least 1849.
Gillespie painted miniature portraits and silhouettes with a practiced and careful hand. The features are crisply delineated and his painting style is similar to the work of an artist who painted portraits on ivory. I am, however, unaware of any portraits on ivory that have been attributed to him. His silhouettes are generally found painted in shades of dark grey with black pigment added to show clothing details. His use of gum Arabic to heighten detail is masterful and subtle. Several monotone portraits backed by dark grey painted background have been found and are quite distinctive.
As a result of their recent research into the life and work of Gillespie, Suzanne and Michael Payne note that Gillespie worked in six distinctive styles:
Style 1: Simple silhouette--profile head and neck painted in grey-black with gum arabic highlights of the ear, eye, and the hair. Not watercolor detail added. The Paynes tell us this was his 25-cent portrait.
Style 2: Silhouette face with painted body--profile face painted grey-black with body carefully outlined and then painted in dark colors. No gum arabic detailing the face or hair, but painted hair strands added. Eyelashes are drawn with delicate brushstrokes. Neck between face and body is outlined, with details added. Extensive use of gum arabic to highlight the clothing. According to the Paynes, this was his 50-cent profile.
Style 3: White face on black background--profiled face shows the features carefully modeled using pencil, ink, and grey wash watercolor details. The painted grey-black (carefully painted with no brushstrokes) provides contrast. Sitter's clothing is depiected in a grey-black that is either slightly lighter or darker than the background. Thick gum arabic highlights the clothing with a very think line of gum arabic defining the bust. This monochromatic style appear to be the portrait that Gillespie advertised as "in imitation of Copper-Plate busts." These portraits sold for 5 shillings while he was working in England. My own notation to the Paynes' descriptions of this style is that I have seen several on which the background and features are painted a brownish-copper color that closely seems to imitate the sepia tones of many copper plate prints of the period. To the left you can see an example with the grey-black and one with the brownish-copper painting.
Style 4: Silhouette with bronzed highlights--profile painted grey-black with bronze paint highlights used for hair, ear, necklace, and dress. According to the Paynes, Gillespie charged $1 for this portrait style.
Style 5: Watercolor profile portrait--profile painted with watercolor, ink and pencil used to model the features. A distinctive background shading provides what Gillespie advertised as "drapery". This background provides a good means for identifying his work. Shading around the perimeter of the portrait is achieved with large dabs of dark browns and blues concentrated on the lower right and left sides of the figure and a light blue color applied with minute brushstrokes on the top. The darker drapery catches the viewer's eye first and draws it towards the face. A few examples have only light blue coloration around the entire perimeter of teh portrait. Clothing usually painted in dark tones of black or blue, with colored buttons or jewelry and gum arabic highlights. These oval portraits have been found in lockets, wood frames, and stamped brass frames. It appears that Gillespie produced more of this style in the U.S. than the other five styles. The Paynes tell us that this is the style that Gillespie first offered for $2 and later for $4.
Style 6: Less detailed watercolor profile portrait--profile face is less modeled and simpler than style 5. The body is less elaborately drawn and there is no background shading. This style has only been found framed in a square format. This style has been found with sitters from Maine and Canada. Gillespie's price for this style is unknown.
Payne, Suzanne Rudnick and Payne, Michael R., "Six Choices for the Sitter, James H. Gillespie (1793-after 1849), Antiques & Fine Art, 200 (Summer/Autumn 2008) (online article at antiquesandfineart.com).
Sarah Goodridge (or Goodrich) (February 5, 1788—December 28, 1853)
Sarah Goodridge was the sixth of nine children born to Ebenezer Goodridge and Beulah Childs. She was born in Templeton, Massachusetts, growing up on a farm. She developed an interest in drawing at a young age, but having little money to buy paper, she taught herself to draw on the sanded kitchen floor with a stick or on sheets of peeled birch bark with a pin. At seventeen, Goodridge moved to Milton, MA to live in her brother’s household as his housekeeper. Sarah returned to Templeton during the summers to teach at the schools where she had been educated. Largely self-taught, Sarah began her professional career as a portraitist in Templeton in 1812. Her first professional portraits were taken in pastel (red, white and black chalk) for 50 cents and, later, in watercolor on paper for $1.50. She later moved to Boston where she lived with other family members. Sarah listed herself in the Boston directory as a miniature painter in 1818 and opened her own studio on 1820. In Boston, she was exposed to other artists and was mentored by Gilbert Stuart. Sarah visited Stuart’s studio often for critiques and to copy his oil paintings as miniatures. Stuart sat for Sarah in 1825, a portrait miniature which is included in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Sarah never married although she had a special relationship with Daniel Webster which lasted for many years. Webster sat for his portrait while he was married to his first wife and had three children. He sat for eleven more portraits by Goodridge over the next twenty-five years. The pair wrote each other frequently—Sarah carefully preserved his letters while he seems to have carefully destroyed the letters he received from Sarah. After Webster moved to Washington DC to serve the government, Sarah visited him twice, her only forays outside of the Boston area. After Webster’s wife died in 1827, Sarah painted her most poignant portrait for him—a stunning and sensual portrait of Sarah’s breasts surrounded by a diaphanous white fabric. The stunning Beauty Revealed shows that the boundaries of conduct were not as narrow as we believe today. At forty years old, an early 19th century woman could enjoy her sexuality and share it with her loved one. Even though Webster took another, wealthier woman as his second wife to help him preserve and promote his extravagant lifestyle and his unrealized hopes to become president, he kept Sarah’s touching self-portrait along with her paint box and easel which Sarah left to him upon her death. These items were found by Webster’s heirs after his death.
Sarah’s professional career continued until 1851 when her eyesight failed her. Her success enabled Sarah, a single womn, to support her mother for eleven years, raise an orphaned niece and purchase a home. Sarah died of a stroke in 1858. It is interesting to note that although today she is mostly known by the name Goodridge and her parents went by that name, Sarah made clear that she wanted her last name spelled “Goodrich” and always used that spelling in her directory listings. Her sister Elizabeth was also a noted portrait miniaturist.
Sarah’s signature characteristics include a background of blue diagonal hatches, the scribed (scored or scratched into the paint) highlights in the hair, heavily outlined irises of the eyes. She also used a shadow under the nose and lower lip, delicate flesh coloring in the face and a finely drawn mouth with a hint of a smile. Holton and Gilday described Sarah’s work very well in their recent article about this important artist, “Possessing a heart attuned to tenderness, Goodrich limned small miracles of illumination, transcendent reckonings of wistfulness and desire that go beyond mere biography. Her miniatures live on as silent messengers of human beauty, reanimating a vanished world.”1
Sarah's work is held by many of the finest museums of the United States including: The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Smithsonian American Art Museum; Yale University Art Gallery, and others.
1. Holton, Randall L. & Gilday, Charles A., “Sarah Goodrich: Mapping places in the heart”, The Magazine Antiques online, http://www.themagazineantiques.com/articles/sarah-goodrich-mapping-places/.
Edwin Weyburn Goodwin (1800-1845)
Edwin Weyburn Goodwin (1800-1845) was born in Ovid, New York. He first married Almira Ives and, after she died in 1837, he married his second wife, Almira LaBarre. Goodwin was mostly self-educated and became a painter in his twenties. He studied painting under Anthony Lewis DeRose in New York City and first exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1836. Goodwin painted portraits of President Martin Van Buren, William H. Seward, DeWitt Clinton, James G. Birney, Gerrit Smith and many others. It has been said that he captured the likenesses of both ordinary citizens and prominent figures.
Goodwin was a staunch abolishionist who lectured on emancipation and temperance. His home was one of the Underground Railroad depots for fugitives on their way to freedom. He owned and edited the anti-slavery newspaper, “The Tocsin of Liberty”, in Albany. It is said that he was a bit of a workaholic and his work with his art, his church, emancipation and temperance just “wore out his life at the age of forty-five.”
His son, Richard LaBarre Goodwin (1840-1910) became an accomplished landscape, still life and trompe l’oeil painter. The paintings of both Goodwins are highly collectible and hang in many museums.
Ethan Allen Greenwood (1779–1856)
Greenwood was a lawyer, portrait painter, and entrepreneurial museum proprietor in Boston, Massachusetts in the early 19th century. He was born in Hubbardston, Mass to Moses and Betsey Dunlap Greenwood on May 27, 1779. His father was a farmer and Ethan worked on the farm until he was nineteen. In 1798, Greenwood entered the Academy at New Salem and then attended Leicester Academy. In 1806 he graduated from Dartmouth College. Greenwood studied law with Hon. Solomon Strong and was the first practicing lawyer in Westminister, Mass.
Greenwood first started painting portraits in 1801. In 1806, he studied painting under Edward Savage in New York. In 1812, Greenwood was living in Boston, working at the Linen Spinner Company, of which he was co-owner. He also taught school, all while painting. But in 1813, he turned to portrait painting as a profession, opening a studio at what is now Scollay Square, near the State House in Boston. In 1812, the New York Museum was founded at Boylston Market, Boston by Greenwood’s mentor and teacher, Edward Savage. In 1818, Greenwood opened the New England Museum on Court Street. Greenwood’s New England Museum soon absorbed the New York Museum from his mentor. Greenwood continued to buy the collections of other Boston Museums and by 1825, the New England Museum and Gallery of Fine Arts was housed in eleven large halls and apartments. Greenwood also established museum branches in Portland, Maine, and Providence, Rhode Island. However around 1834-1839 he experienced financial difficulties, and as a result "his assignees conveyed the collections [of the New England Museum] to Moses Kimball." Kimball would then found the Boston Museum and Gallery of Fine Arts, a theatre and exhibit hall, featuring a portion of Greenwood's collection; Kimball sold the other portion of Greenwood's collection to a museum effort in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1840.
Between 1801 and 1825, Greenwood painted as many as 800 works. Like many artists of the early 19th century, Greenwood utilized the physiognotrace technique (or camera obscura) to obtain what he considered a perfect likeness. He kept a studio in Boston, circa 1813; and associated with other artists, including Gilbert Stuart. He joined the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in 1814. He married Caroline Carter Warren in 1829. After the death of his parents, he moved back to the farm in Hubbardston and built a large home. He became active in public and business affairs of Hubbardston.
Throughout his life, Greenwood kept a diary. On reviewing some of the diary entries, one scholar observed: "[he] each day recorded both the weather and the title of the book he was reading ... and occasionally noted the library from which the volume was borrowed—the Adelphi Fraternity Library, the Social Friends Library [of Dartmouth College], or the unnamed circulating library he joined in 1806." Greenwood’s diaries now reside in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society. Entries from 1824 capture the details of Greenwood's life as a museum director:
"June 1st, 1824. A Mermaid arrived here last week & I agreed to exhibit it. Busy setting up Shark. -- 2nd. Purchased some Indian Curiosities. -- 3rd. Bought four figures of an Italian $4.00. -- 5th. Bought four Busts of Voltaire, filling up jars of reptiles.... -- 7th. Artillery Election good run of business & in the eve a 'Glorious House' $342.75. Best day since the Museum began. -- 10th. Bought a young Shark."
Greenwood’s portraits are included in numerous museum collections, including the Worcester Art Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.
Bumgardner, Georgia Brady, "The Early Career of Ethan Allen Greenwood", Itinerancy in New England and New York: Annual Proceedings of the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, Peter Benes, ed. Boston. 1984.
Greenwood, Ethan Allen, Papers, 1801 - 1839, American Antiquarian Society Manuscript Collections. Worcester, Massachusetts.
Please view the Greenwood portrait currently in inventory on the Portraits pages
Sturtevant J. Hamblin (or Hamblen) (1817-1884) Prior-Hamblen School of Artists
Sturtevant J. Hamblin was born to Almery and Sarah Clark Hamblen in Portland, Maine in 1817. Almery (born Almory) was a a mechanic and painter. Almery & Sarah's first child was named George Hamblen, but by the birth of their second son in 1801, they seem to have decided to change the spelling of their last name to Hamblin. All located records for Sturtevant, list his last name as Hamblin, although some list his first name as Sturdivant (christening record, marriage record, 1850, 1860, 1870 census records). The Hamblin/Hamblen family was well known for their painting and glazing. In 1828, Hamblin's sister Rosamund Clark Hamblin married William Matthew Prior and the newly wed couple moved in with brothers Nathaniel, Joseph and Sturtevant. Thus, the Prior-Hamblen School of painting was born. In 1839, the entire family (including the Priors) moved to Boston. Of the Hambin brothers, only Sturtevant considered himself a portrait painter.
The portraits of Hamblin have often been attributed to Prior. A recent article by David Krashes has provided us with solid clues to attributed Hamblin's work correctly. Mr. Krashes says:
There seem to be only seven known signed portraits by Sturtevant Hamblen.11 One has been sold twice by Sotheby's, and the other is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A notable characteristic of each painting is the fairly well-known Hamblen indicator of the pointed hand. The fourth finger is the longest; the next three fingers are progressively shorter down to the pinky.
Not so well known is the visual symmetry about a vertical centerline that is a feature of these two signed paintings and many other Hamblen portraits. In figure 6, imagine a centerline from the top of the painting through the part of the hair, through the nose, and down to the waist and see how everything painted to the left of the centerline seems symmetrical to everything on the right. Even the angles at which the ears protrude from the head seem equal. In figure 7, there is a similar symmetry about a vertical centerline through the child. In some cases, the symmetry exists except for the hair or may exist vertically only partway down the painting.
A typical Hamblen chin, which may not be visible in the pictures shown here, is an almost imaginary circle with its top an inverted arc visible beneath the lower lip. If a portrait suspected to be by either Prior or Hamblen contains no hands but shows a significant symmetry about the vertical centerline of the figure, or possibly the inverted arc chin, it may well be by Hamblen.
Krashes, David, "Understanding the Prior-Hamblen School of Artists A Little Bit Better", Maine Antique Digest, July, 2011. Click this link for the online article at maineantiquedigest.com.
Like Prior, Hamblin's naïve portraits are often painted on paperboard, a homemade version of artist's board made by layering paper atop pasteboard.
Chotner, Deborah, American Naive Paintings, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalog, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Cambridge University Press 1992. 164-171.
Hickman, Madelia & Pratt, Wayne, "The 'Celebrated' William Matthew Prior (1806-1873)", Antiques & Fine Art Magazine, online article at www.antiquesandfineart.com.
Krashes, David, "Understanding the Prior-Hamblen School of Artists A Little Bit Better", Maine Antique Digest, July, 2011, attached pdf graciously presented courtesy of Maine Antique Digest.
Rumford, Beatrix T. American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. New York Graphic Society, 1981. 112-117.
George Hartwell (1815-1901) Prior Hamblen School of Artists
Most details of the life and George Hartwell are unknown. However, we do know that his niece, Elizabeth Hartwell, married one of Sturtevant Hamblin's brothers (variously named James or Joseph G.--I found two federal census records that list him as Joseph G. Hamblin, 1850 as a painter and 1860 as a master builder). We know that Elizabeth and her Hamblin husband lived in Boston at the time that William Matthew Prior lived there. Thus, the connection of George Hartwell with the rest of the Prior-Hamblen School of artists is established.
David Krashes tells us that the main distinguishing features of Hartwell's portraits are the lips and the fingers. The lips are noted by their tonality, in which the upper lip is a fairly dark red field and the lower lip is a lighter reddish-white. The two lips are generally separated by a dark brown line. Each lip is painted with a single brushstroke. Hands of Hartwell and Hamblin can be quite similar but Hartwell is known for painting fingers with a single brushstroke, separated by strong brown lines, each finger being tapered and often showing fingernails.
Krashes, David, "An Appreciation of Nineteenth Century Folk Portraits", Antiques & Fine Art Magazine, online article at www.antiquesandfineart.com.
Krashes, David, "Understanding the Prior-Hamblen School of Artists A Little Bit Better", Maine Antique Digest, July, 2011, attached pdf graciously presented courtesy of Maine Antique Digest.
Milton William Hopkins (1789-1844)
Milton Hopkins was born to Hezekiah and Eunice Hubbel Hopkins on August 1, 1789 in Harwinton, Litchfield County, Connecticut. He moved with his parents and seven siblings to Pompey Hill, New York in 1802. Hopkins married his first wife, Abigail Pollard about 1809. Hopkins and Abigail had one son. After Abigail's death, sometime before 1817, Hopkins married his second wife, Almina Adkins and moved with his wife and son to Evans Mills, New York. Hopkins and Almina had nine children. Although his occupation during his late teens and early twenties is unknown, his purchase of several acres of land suggests that he may have been a farmer.
In 1823, Hopkins moved his family to Newport, New York (renamed Albion in 1826). Hopkins 1824 advertisement in the Newport (New York Patriot) states that he was painting houses and signs, gilding, glazing, chair-making, and selling painting supplies. For part of the year 1828, Hopkins served as captain on an Albion canal boat, but by December of that year, he had moved to Richmond, Virginia. His 1828 advertisement in the Richmond Constitutional Whig says that he was instructing women in Poonah (also known as theorem painting). He probably assisted a "Miss Turner" who ran an academy for drawing, penmanship, "Music, Painting on Velvet, Wood and Paper and Fancy Work."
Hopkins moved his family back to Albion in 1829 and, in 1833, he advertised in The Orleans Advocate and Anti-Masonic Telegraph that he was both a portrait painter and a teacher. It is now believed that Hopkins taught fellow portrait artist, Noah North, whose earliest known works date from 1833. Hopkins likely worked as a portrait artist prior to 1833, but his earliest known works are dated 1833.
In 1826, Hopkins renounced his Masonic affiliation and became a spokesperson for the anti-Masonic movement. By 1830, he was a leading spokesperson for the Orleans County Temperance Society, traveling and speaking throughout the Rochester area. It is likely that is involvement in the abolition movement associated with the anti-Masonic views prompted him to move to Ohio where he was an important supporter of the Underground Railroad in Cincinnati and Columbus. It appears that his portrait commissions from supported his participation in abolitionist activities. Most of Hopkins sitters were active participants in a flourishing rural society whose focal point for many reform movements.
Hopkins New York works are characterized by a labored modeling of the face with fine strokes of paint, contrasted with a flatter, more awkward treatment of the body. The sitters from this period all share long, narrow lips, squared-off fingernails, indications of creases on finger joints and meticulous attention to the laces and accessories of women.
In 1836, Hopkins and his family moved to Ohio where he bought a farm in Williamsburg, near Cincinnati. Between 1836 and 1838, Hopkins was apparently exposed to academic portraiture because his portraits dated 1838 show greater sophistication in the heads but still have flatly painted bodies, sometimes appearing too small for the head size.
Hopkins 1839 advertisement in The Ohio Statesman shows that he had set up a studio in Columbus, but he was painting portraits in Jackson, Mississippi and other southern states in the early 1840s. Hopkins died of pneumonia while visiting his farm in Williamsburg on April 24, 1844. He was buried in Williamsburg until about 1863 when his children moved his remains to Spring Grove Cemetery in Cleveland.
For many years, Hopkins unsigned works were attributed to his probable student, Noah North. In the 1980s the discovery of a portrait nearly identical to those of North but signed and dated "M.W. Hopkins 1833" prompted a reevaluation of the entire body of work. The careful painting and graining of chairs upon which sitters pose shows that both Hopkins and North were active ornamental painters and that Hopkins was a chair-maker and gilder. Hopkins' well-modeled faces give his work a more three-dimensional, naturalistic quality than North's portraits exhibit. Other distinguishing traits of Hopkins' work include: broad, arching eye-brows; indented temples; slightly oversized ears with a C-shaped inner ears; softly modeled eye sockets; highlighted eye pupils and interior corners of the eyes; salmon colored lips; shading to the side of sitters' noses; and greatly detailed lace and accessories for women sitters.
Chotner, Deborah, American Naive Paintings, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalog, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Cambridge University Press 1992. 206-210.
D'Ambrosio, Paul S. and Emans, Charlotte M., Folk Art's Many Faces: Portraits in the New York State Historical Association, New York State Historical Ass'n, Cooperstown 1987. 99-102.
Oak, Jacqueline, Face to Face: M.W. Hopkins and Noah North, Museum of our National Heritage (exhibit catalog), Lexington, Massachusetts, 1988.
Oak, Jacqueline, "Milton W. Hopkins Pierrepont Edward Lacy and His Dog, Gun (1835-36), Seeing America: Painting and Sculpture from the Memorial Art Gallery, http://mag.rochester.edu/seeingAmerica/essays/5.swf
William W. Kennedy (1818-after 1870) Prior-Hamblin Group of Artists
From American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, we learn the following about William Kennedy:
"Kennedy is perhaps the least well known of the portraitists referred to as "Prior Hamblin" artists. To date no contact between him and any other member of this stylistically linked group of painters has been documented. The opportunity for exposure to William Matthew Prior's work certainly existed, however, as is readily apparent upon comparing recorded dates and locations of activity for the two artists in both New England and Maryland. Especially noteworthy is the fact that Prior's signed Baltimore works bear an East Monument Street address only a few doors from where Kennedy worked from 1856 to 1859."
"Recent [pre-1981] research by the Folk Art Center has revealed fourteen signed examples of Kennedy's work, which provide the stylistic basis for an additional thirty-nine attributions. Peculiarities of his anatomical descriptions include exaggerated shading around the nose, a U-shaped configuration connection the eyebrows and nose of the subject, a dark line between the lips--often with T formations at each corner of the mouth--and a particularly distinctive curvature of the extended fingers of the subject's hands. Occasionally Kennedy's portraits incorporate devises like a landscape view through a window or door, or objects such as a rattle, flute, stick and hoop, drumsticks, or a basket of flowers. But the props he used most frequently were a rose in the outstretched hands of female subjects, and a book in the hands of male sitters. Although he sometimes depicted children full length, either seated or standing, his portraits on canvas generally show a half-length subject seated in a side chair against a background that is either draped of shaded half light and half dark. Kennedy painted likenesses on canvases of standard sizes and of the small academy board variety frequently associated with artists of the Prior-Hamblin group."
William W. Kennedy (1818-after 1870) is one of the six artist known as the Prior-Hamblen School of artists. Although no direct connection has been found between Kennedy and either Prior or Hamblin, Kennedy's advertisements, city directory listings and painting inscriptions place him in the same locales as Prior during the 1840s and 50s and Kennedy lived a few houses away from William Matthew Prior during the 1850s. It is obvious that Kennedy was aware and studied the works of the Prior Hamblin group of artists as his work is similar in style and technique. In 1845, Kennedy advertised that he was painting "A New Style of Portrait" which seems to refer to the flat style of portraiture that Prior advertised could be accomplished quickly and inexpensively. The wording of Kennedy's ad is very similar to the wording of Prior's advertisements and Kennedy states that he is "of Boston", lending more credence that the two artists were connected by more than style.
Rumford, Beatrix T. American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. New York Graphic Society, 1981. 136-137.
Wertkin, Gerald C. & Kogan, Lee, Encyclopedia of American Folk Art. Routledge, New York, 2004. 272.
Joseph H. Knowlton (June 21, 1821 – February 2, 1880)
We know little about the painting career of J.H. Knowlton. We know that his father, Joseph Knowlton was born to Thomas Knowlton and Betsey Giles on January 27, 1794 and married Susan Dearborn. Joseph Senior’s father, Thomas, was born in Kensington, Massachusetts and served in various companies of the Revolutionary army as private, sergeant, ensign and lieutenant. Joseph Snr. was a soldier in the War of 1812 and he died on May 31, 1865. His wife, Susan was a descendent of General Dearborn who served at Bunker Hill. Joseph and Susan had 6 children, the first child was named Joseph but died in infancy. They named their second son Joseph H. (we still have not found his middle name). He was born June 21, 1821. Joseph H. served in the Civil War and married Clara Butler. The couple had 4 children, including a son named Joseph who was born in 1857. See Stocking, Rev. Charles Henry Wright, The History and Genealogy of the Knowltons of England and America, The Knickerbocker Press, New York, 1897. 73 & 153. Through a short biography of Joseph Snr. & Susan’s daughter, Julia Knowlton Dyer, we know that Joseph Knowlton (senior) moved his family to Manchester, N.H. in 1839 and was connected with the Land and Water Company for twenty years. See How, Julia Ward, ed., Representative Women of New England, New England Historical Publishing Co., Boston 1904. 127-28.
The 1844 Manchester City Directory lists both Joseph Knowlton living at 4 Machine Shop Block (also says “see A.C. Corp.”) and J.H. Knowlton, “portrait painter”, with an office address of G. Union Building, and his home listed as that of his father, 4.M.S.B. (Machine Shop Block). From this listing and later information, we know that Joseph Snr. & Susan’s son, Joseph H. was the portrait artist. Joseph H. was 23 when he listed himself in the city directory as a portrait painter and at the time period that he painted this portrait. Joseph H. was chosen clerk of the Manchester Fire Department in 1841. According to the Manchester Historical Society, Joseph H. was City Clerk in 1859. The historical society has a political cartoon by Joseph H.
In 1859, The Farmers’ Cabinet newspaper of Amherst, NH printed the following article:
The splendid Flag staff on Merrimack Square runs high up again into the blue ether. The “top-gallant mast” was erected this morning by John H. Maynard Esq., and is mounted by a copper figure of a Fireman, manufactures by Darling & Varney from a design by Joseph H. Knowlton, and gilded with gold leaf, by Capt. J.H. Bruce. It is a natural representation having a speaking trumpet to his mouth, and one arm extended, pointing forward, as if calling to the Firemen to come on, its height is five feet six inches, its weight 28lbs, and was ordered and purchased by the Firemen at a cost of about $100. The perilous feat of placing this figure upon the pole was performed by Frederick Walker, Amos Dow, and Putnam Heath. The staff now, with its figure, is 210 feet high.
The Farmers’ Cabinet, Vol. 58, Issue 5, P. , August 31, 1850. See http://www.cardcow.com/75752/firemans-muster-merrimac-common-massachusetts/ for an image of the flagstaff designed by J.H. Knowlton
In the 1860 Federal Census, Joseph H. Knowlton (Knoulton) is listed as a mechanic and still living with wife Clara and 4 children.
Joseph H. enlisted as a private in Company K, New Hampshire 4th Infantry Regiment on October 7, 1862 at the age of 39. In 1865, Joseph H. Knowlton was listed as justice of the peace in Manchester. Lyon, G. Parker, New Hamphire Annual Register 1865, Concord, G. Parker Lyon. 76.
Joseph H. Knowlton died on February 3, 1880 at 58 of consumption. The occupation listed on his death certificate is painter.
"J. H. Knowlton had a studio in Union Block in 1843, and many of his portraits are found among the families of our older residents. He soon drifted into other fields of enterprise, to neglect has native art gift, which was of an unusually high order." Art and Artists of Manchester, Manchester Historic Association Collections Volume IV, Part One, Manchester Historic Association, 1908. 112, Art and Artists in Manchester. Unfortunately, between 1908 when the Historic Association noted that many of his portraits could still be found within old Manchester families and the beginning of the 21st century, almost all of Knowlton’s portraits have been lost. The portrait shown at the left is the only currently known signed portrait by J.H. Knowlton. Additionally, the Manchester Historical Society owns an unsigned portrait which they have attributed to Knowlton based on the characteristics of theportrait shown. Both portraits are registered with the Smithsonian's Art Inventories Catalog. The portrait owned by the historical society can be seen at Knowlton portrait of Miss Alice Moore.
Jacob Maentel (1778-1863)
Johann Adam Bernhard Jacob Maentel was born in Kassel, Germany in 1778. He may have immigrated to Baltimore sometime between his father’s death in 1805 and the appearance of a Jacob Maentel, “Portrait painter,” in the Baltimore directory of 1807. Maentel married Catherine Weaver of Baltimore about 1821, but he had probably already been living or traveling in Pennsylvania by about 1807. Maentel is listed in the 1820 census for Dauphin County, Pennsylvana where he painted many of the citizens standing in grassy landscapes. By 1830, Maentel was living in Schaefferstown, Lebanon County, where two of his children were born and where his name appears with many of his portrait sitters—Zimmerman, Bucher, Haak—in the parish register of the Saint Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. His name also appears until 1833 in the Zimmerman ledger books for purchases of paint and confectioners’ supplies. But by 1838, Maentel is listed in the Indiana tax rolls for New Harmony Township, Indiana, where he continued to portray members of the tight-knit German community, some of whom he had known in Pennsylvania. Jacob Maentel is buried in Maple Hill Cemetery in New Harmony; his undated headstone bears only the initials “J.M.”
Maentel’s identified watercolors date from 1807 to 1846. There are only four known signed examples, including the portrait in the American Folk Art Museum’s collection of a young woman in a blue dress, dated August 31, 1827, and signed “von Jacob Mäntel.” The prolific number of drawings he did during his career provides one of the most important records of early 19th-century rural agrarian America. He did more than 200 portraits and documented the German-American migration to the American Midwest. His work is believed to present fairly accurate likenesses of his sitters even though he was a formulistic artist who often repeated stock compositional devices. His portraits are distinguished by his characteristic detailing of faces, dress, and backgrounds. He used fine and distinct ink strokes to delineate brows and lashes, and heavier watercolor washes to depict drapery and landscape. The watercolors fall into several stylistic categories of pose and setting. The portraits, from about 1810 through 1820, are full-length profile figures set in landscapes and painted against plain backgrounds or dramatic skies. Usually there are tufts of grass in the foreground, and Maentel later began to include architectural structures, fences, and other personal elements of the sitter such as hats, purses, flowers, umbrellas, fans, cats, parrots, and roosters. During this period Maentel also painted some pairs of frontal figures set into colorful interiors. By the mid-1820s, symmetrical companion portraits had become Maentel’s typical presentation, and he continued to reuse these established conventions in Indiana. Throughout his lifetime, Maentel was known as a farmer who was fond of painting.
Maentel's Portraits Exhibited at:
Abby Rockefeller Folk Art Museum
American Folk Art Museum
Fenimore Art Museum
New York Historical Society
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Rumford, Beatrix T. American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. New York Graphic Society, 1981. 139-143.
American Folk Art Museum Collection, "Amelia and Eliza Danner" by Jacob Maentel, http://www.folkartmuseum.org/?p=folk&t=images&id=3569
Please view the Maentel attributed portraits currently in stock on the Portraits page.
Susannah Paine (1792-1862)
Susannah (sometimes spelled Susanna) Paine was one of the pioneering women artist of 19th century New England. She was born in Rehoboth, Massachusetts to a mariner-father who was lost at sea while she was still a young girl. Paine attended what she referred to as Rhode Island's best girls academy where she was exposed to the art that would later become her professional pursuit. At her mother's urging, she married James Phillips of Providence in 1819, a man she described as a "taunting, sneering surly tyrant...who enjoyed burning bibles when angry." Their union lasted only 14 months, but before their separation, Paine conceived a child. Her son was born 3 months after her separation from Phillips. She was granted custody of her son in a divorce, but Phillips got all of her property, leaving her destitute. Her son died at eleven months of age.
In 1823, at the age of 32, Paine began to travel as an artist. She developed a clientele of women who were proud of having their portrait painted by a woman artist. A letter in the Portland Advertiser in 1827 recognized Paine's portraits and boasted, "Ladies must feel pride and pleasure in patronizing a female artist."
On December 12, 1826, Paine placed an ad in the Portland, Maine newspaper which read:
PORTRAITS. Miss S. Paine respectfully informs the public that she has taken a room at Mrs. Pritchard's in the new Brick Block, Freestreet, for PORTRAIT PAINTING---her former successes in Providence, where she has been liberally patronized, inspire her with confidence to solicit patronage; as she anticipates a very short stay in Portland, she will put her Portraits at a very reduced price, and will engage to make them to entire satisfaction, or receive no pay---those who will favor her with their patronage will please apply very soon. Price-Oil pictures, $8.00. Do Crayons, $4.00.
Susannah Paine was active in New England, especially Rhode Island and Maine. To improve her artistic endeavors, she took art training at the Boston Athenæum around 1832. She was a good hearted person who raised a young girl whom she referred to as her adopted daughter and rented an apartment for her mother and stepfather when she found that her half-brother had obtained the deed to her parents' property and had them living in what she referred to as an "sort of out-house".
Her work is noted for appealing detail of her subjects such as ornate dress and coiled hair dos, she painted primarily with oil on wood but did an occasional pastel portrait. Her works reside in the collections of the Maine State Museum, Portland Museum of Art, Rhode Island Historical Society, and the Cape Ann Museum. In 2011, a pastel portrait signed by Paine sold for $32,500 ($38,513 including buyer's premium).
Payne, Michael and Suzanna Rudnick, "Roses and Thorns: The Life of Susanna Paine", Folk Art Magazine, Winter 2005/2006, pp. 62-71.
Payne, Michael and Suzanna Rudnick, "A Woman Can Paint a Likeness?", The Magazine Antiques, January 2009.
"Selected Works by Susannah Paine", Cape Ann Museum online.
"A City Awakes -- Arts Flourish in Portland", Maine Memory Network, Maine Historical Society online.
Portrait of George Morillo Bartol, Skinner Inc. online archives, American Furniture & Decorative Arts - Sale 2538B - Lot 52.
"Susannah Paine (1792 – 1862)", American Gallery, Greatest American Painters
Please view the Paine attributed portrait currently in stock on the Portraits page.
Abraham Parsell (1791-1856)
Abraham Parsell was born in Neshanic, New Jersey on June 17, 1791. He married Mary Richards in Essex Country, NJ on March 23 1819. The had three children, but only one, John H., survived.
Although the more common practice for portraitists of the early 19th century was an itinerant practice, Parsell moved his family to New York City where he competed with academically trained artists. He shows up in the New York City directories, listed as a miniature painter, as early as 1820. He continued to prosper as a miniaturist in New York City for at least 36 years....he must have been well-thought of by his clientele.
Parsell's early work is noted for the lack of hands and props and the more subtly colored, less complex backgrounds. Later works are distinguished by his use of "long, elegant fingers, pronounced eyelids, and penetrating eyes, set against a stippled background." Sitters often hold a book or rolled newspaper or document, eyeglasses and, rarely, a family pet. Sitters' clothing is stylishly depicted, often with elaborate jewelry and hairstyles. Backgrounds of many later portraits "have a dramatic sunset appearance, with clouds of blues, oranges, and pinks. Shades of brown stippled pigment are often included in the background either alone or in conjunction with the atmospheric clouds."
Parsell's later portraits show his good understanding of ivory as a medium. He took full advantage of ivory's translucence by painting areas of the back of the ivory in shades of blue, reddish brown, and orange to produce muted tonalities on the front of the portrait. He scored the ivory surface with a group of barely visible lines to secure the paint. He is also known for the use of gum arabic to highlight the clothing and sitter's details.
Interestingly, Parsell, who died on February 10, 1856 at 65 years old, left several will codicils because he couldn't seem to decide whether or not to leave all of his money and property to his wife if she remarried. His last codicil left her the money and property, but with restrictions if she remarried. Poor Mary did not remarry, living 17 more years
Sheldon Peck (1797-1868)
Sheldon Peck was born in Cornwall, Vermont on August 26, 1797 to Jacob and Elizabeth Peck. Jacob Peck had fought in the Revolutionary War and was one fot eh first settlers of Cornwall, Vermont. Sheldon Peck married Harriet Cory on September 15, 1824. Together, Sheldon and Harriet would have ten children.
He was a self-taught itinerant portrait artist who never signed his work. His earliest portraits, painted in Vermont, appear to be executed according to a formula worked out in an attempt to catch a likeness in a brief period of time. During this time, Peck elaborated on his sitters' coiffures and dress by painting curls, lace-trimmed collars and bonnets, and gold buttons. A decorative motif that reappears throughout the artist's career is a series of brushstrokes often called a rabbit's foot--a long stroke, flanked by two shorter ones. Peck used this decorative motif in the elaboration of lace and other decorative elements of the sitter's clothing. By 1828, Peck and his family had moved to New York. During his New York Period, Peck executed half and three-quarter length portraits on wood panels as he had done in Vermont. However, his New York palette was brighter and the portraits more detailed in their execution. These large portraits were often embellished with draperies, painted furniture and other accessories. On November 9, 1836, the Onodaga Standard newspaper published an announcement by Hezekiah Gunn saying, "Be it known to all people, taht one Sheldon Peck, and Harriet his wife, not having the fear of God before their eyes, being instigated by the devil, have with malice aforethought most wickedly and maliciously hired, flattered, bribed or persuided my wife Emeline, to leave me without just cause or provocation. It is supposed that said Peck has carried her to some part of the state of Illinio. This is therefore to forbid all persons harboring or trusting my wife Emeline, for I will pay no debts of her contracting." About the time of this published announcement, the Pecks moved abruptly to Chicago. Some have speculated that the Pecks were Mormons and that Mrs. Gunn left her husband to practice polygamy, but this conjecture is without substantiation. There was a great economic panic in 1837 that left less people willing to pay for large elaborate portraits. Peck's Chicago Period seemed a return to his simple Vermont style so that in an era of financial depression, he could reduce his prices. The Chicago portraits are painted on canvas which was probably more accessible to him and certainly took much less time to prepare than did his wood panels.
Sometime around 1837, Peck moved his family twenty miles west of Chicago to a town called Babcock's Grove (later changed to Lomard), where he became a respected farmer, community leader, landscapt painter, photographer, founding member of the Chicago Academy of Design. The 1840 census lists Peck as a farmer. His portrait painting business must have gotten better because the 1850 census lists his occupation as a portrait painter. Peck probably farmed during the summer and traveled as a painter during the winter. His work from this period are often full-length and sometimes include several likenesses on a single canvas. His pallet was brighter and many portraits feature bright reds and yellows. He sometimes avoided the additional expense for framing by painting a trompe l'oeil graned frame directly on the canvas. His later style developed to compete with cheaper daguerreotypes that were being offered at the time. While many itinerant portraitists of the day attempted to refine their technique by deliberately trying to paint more realistically to compete with photography, Peck chose the opposite approach. He appears to hav hosen to paint in a simple style that would appear to relatively unworldly clients. Peck chose his style and went to the frontier to find people who would appreciate it instead of setting up in a metropolitan area where the most sophisticated clients could be found. Peck died on his farm on March 19, 1868 of pneumonia
Bishop, Robert, Folk Painters of America. E.P. Dutton, New York, NY. 1979. 192-205.
Lombard Historical Society, "Who Was Sheldon Peck?", http://www.lombardhistory.org/who_was_peck.htm.
Please view the Sheldon Peck attributed portrait currently in stock on the Portraits page.
Clarissa Peters (Mrs. Moses B. Russell) (1809-1854)
Clarissa Peters was born in North Andover, Massachusetts to Elizabeth Farrington Davis and John Peters. She was fifth of twelve children born to a family that had been prominent in local affairs for generations. Even though there are no records of Clarissa's early training, it is assumed that Clarissa attended Franklin Academy (the first incorporated school in Massachusetts to admit young ladies) because her younger sister Emily attended the academy from 1836 to 1838. Another sister, Sarah Peters Grozelier also became a miniature portraitist.
Clarissa's earliest known artistic endeavor is a beautifully decorated friendship album that is among a collection of other family papers at the North Andover Historical Society. Entries in the album date from 1829 to 1832 and include twenty-two delicate watercolor floral and foliate vignettes that show her eye for detail, color and composition.
In 1835, Clarissa was living in Boston painting miniatures as well as giving lessons in art. While in Boston, Clarissa met and, in 1839, married her mentor Moses Baker Russell. Clarissa and Moses worked closely to expand their successful miniature portrait business. Clarissa's work closely resembles the work of her husband and there is speculation that they worked together on many pieces--a practice that was not uncommon among artists of the era.
Clarissa first exhibited her work in 1841 at the Third Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association in Boston. Several works by her husband were also included in the exhibition. The Boston Daily Mail printed the following laudatory comments about the Russell's work:
Mr. R. has four Miniatures on exhibition, and his wife three. They are all very beautiful. . . . . Mr. Russell is a very talented and successful artist, and his wife paints the likeness of a lady with much accuracy and beauty of coloring. Their contributions to the Anthen æum have been much admired -- but their extensive practice, and general success is the best test of their talent.
Clarissa shared a studio with her husband at the centrally located Boston address of 21 School Street from 1840 to 1851. The Russells were active in the artistic life of Boston and participated in many local exhibitions. As a result of their hard work and great talent, their practice was quite successful during a time when people were moving away from portrait painting in favor of the cheaper and more easily obtainable daguerreotype. The front page story in the Boston Evening Transcript of her death in 1854 is testimony of Clarissa Peters Russell's place among the respected artists of Boston.
Despite the similarities to the work of her husband, Clarissa's work is "quite distinctive: charming, somewhat naïve likenesses of their subjects who are almost always women and children." Her subjects have oversized limpid eyes with eyelids and irises heavily outlined, making the eyes the most prominent feature. The mouth is small and seems a bit pinched in relation to the large eyes. She generally set off the mouth with small marks at each corner and a shadow below the lower lip. Clarissa generally used a frontal pose of the head and shoulders (sometimes she used three-quarter lengths for children), placing the subject close to the picture plane to create a sense of immediacy with the viewer. The pale skin tones that she used contrast with the deep shades of fabrics. She used a hatched, striated background for which she favored grey green and purple backgrounds but also used unique combinations of the colors brown, pink, green, light blue, and white. Clarissa Russell almost exclusively painted children or women. She almost never signed her work. When she did sign, she most often used the moniker "M.B. Russell", showing the great influence that her husband had on her career and attributing to the decades of misattribution of her work to her husband.
In 1842, the Boston Almanac listed twelve miniature painters. By 1854 only one was listed, Mrs. M.B. Russell. The fact that she was the lone survivor in a world that had turned away from hand painted portraits for the daguerreotype demonstrates that she offered the public something the photograph could not.
Holton, Randall L., "Mrs. Moses B. Russell Boston Miniaturist - Bibliography", The Magazine Antiques (December 1999) (online article found at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1026/is_6_156/ai_58468287)
Johnson, Dale T., American Portrait Miniatures In The Manney Collection. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1990. 196-98.
Please view th Clarissa Peters portrait currently in inventory on the Portraits pages
Rufus Porter (1792 – 1884)
Itinerant artist and scientist, Rufus Porter, with a fascinating individual. He painted wall murals, and portrait miniatures, cut silhouettes, authored and published several scientific magazines during the majority of the 19th century. Porter was born in West Boxford, Massachusetts in 1792 to a prosperous farmer. Porter’s father moved the family, which included seven children. Rufus Porter’s higher education consisted of six months spent at the Fryeburg Academy when he was 12. Subsequently, Porter worked as a farmer and in amateur fiddler until, at the age of 15, his family decided “it would be best for him not to settle any longer” so he apprenticed as a shoemaker. Unhappy with this trade, Porter walked to Portland, spent three years playing fife for military companies and violin for dancing parties. His life as an artist began as a house and sign painter and a painter of gunboats, sleighs, and drums. He taught school, built wind driven grist mills, copyrighted a music instruction book, and then began portrait painting. At some point before 1817 Porter ran a dancing school. According to legend, Porter joined the crew of a ship on a trading voyage to the Northwest Coast and Hawaii. He married Eunice Twombly in 1815. Together they had 10 children. Throughout his marriage, Porter continued his nomadic ways, leaving Eunice to manage the home and raise the children. Eunice died in 1848. In 1849, Porter remarried a girl in her 20s and fathered six more children, still continuing his itinerant career. Porter continued to travel nonstop until 1884, when at the age of 93 he was suddenly taken ill and died while visiting a son.
In 1825 Porter published a book called A Select Collection of Valuable Curious Arts and Interesting Experiments, an art instruction manual giving the amateur artist quick and easy recipes for various types of artwork. This book included a section on “landscape painting on walls of rooms” describing in detail his method of painting wall murals for which he is now so famous. Porter’s attitude towards expediency in all things reminds me of me. Porter painted very detailed small watercolor portraits with great speed and creativity, never dallying over anyone piece of work. He used a camera obscura to help quickly draw the profiles for his silhouettes in painted miniatures. Curious Arts also included instructions on how to build and use the camera obscura. Porter’s highly detailed but quickly painted watercolor miniatures are highly collected and very desirable to 21st-century collectors of American folk art. Unfortunately, we have no silhouettes which can be attributed to Porter, because it appears he never signed them. However, we do know that he offered hollow cut silhouettes through his handbills and advertisements. The overwhelming majority of his watercolor miniatures are not signed. Using the few signed miniatures so far found, we are able to attribute miniatures on the basis of Porter’s style. Among Porter’s signature portrait characteristics are the following: 1) the opening of the ear canal painted the shape of a tiny heart with a striking apostrophe curving up word from the canal opening; 2) eyes painted with an ovoid – shaped, outlined iris, a shaded eyelid, and a vertical stroke that forms the pupil instead of a more typical round dot; 3) transparently painted watercolor which, often leaves skin tones difficult to discern after almost 2 centuries of paper oxidation; 4) darker skin tone for men than women; 5) shaded graphite skin tones on top of the painted flesh; 6) eyebrows on profiles often extending to the edge of the forehead; 7) a painted brown line separating the lips; and 8) a straight foreword gaze by the sitter. Porter minutely detailed the hairstyles of his sitters with a fine, probably single – haired, paintbrush which he referred to as a “hair pencil”. His garments are delicately painted in watercolor which sometimes is so finely detailed that it appears to be ink. When the portrait miniatures were painted in an oval format, removing them from the frame often shows that Porter tested his watercolor colors on paper edges that would be hidden by frame or verre églomisé glass mat.
Anderson, Marna A Loving Likeness American Folk Portraits of the Nineteenth Century, (Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (1992), 32-34.
Lefko, Linda Carter & Radcliffe, Jane E., Folk Art Murals of the Rufus Porter School, New England Landscapes 1825-1845,Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pennsylvania, 2011.
Lipman, Jean, Rufus Porter Rediscovered, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., New York, 1980.
Please view the pair of Rufus Porter attributed portrait currently in stock on the Portraits page.
Asahel Lynde Powers (1813-1843)
Asahel Lynde Powers was the first of seven children born to Asahel Powers, Jr. and Sophia Lynde Powers. He was born February 28, 1813 in Springfield, Vermont. By the young age of 18, Asahel had already begun his career as a portrait painter. The earliest dated portrait known Powers' portrait is dated 1831. He spent the next decade of his life traveling throughout Vermont and neighboring states as a successful itinerant portraitist. Powers' early work is rich in colorful detail and strong facial delineation. "The heavy shadowing of the features, the absence of modeling and highlights, and an obvious unfamiliarity with the elements of anatomy and perspective are notable attributes which, to most observers, represent the key features of Powers's earliest and most powerful style."4 Like most folk artists of the early to mid-19th century, Powers delighted in painting costume details and working with his strong sense of decorative design. "Powers was innovative, imaginative, and experimental."5 He tried new backgrounds and color effects throughout his career and his compositions show a definite progression toward more accomplished styles. His use of individual accessories is of particular interest to collectors.
For example the portraits of Daniel Griswold and his daughter Louisa, show to the left, display Powers' wonderful use of accessories and color. Daniel's spectacles, pushed up into his grey hair are a key visual element to this strong portrait. The leather bound book with the marbled covers in Daniel's hand proudly display Daniel's age with "Æ 73" and adds another bit of color to the somber tones of Daniel's dark clothing.
Daniel's daughter, Louisa, also shown at the left, is dressed in her bright green wedding dress (at least a later inscription on the reverse claims it to be her wedding dress). Her scarf is delicately patterned and lightly fringed. She wears a beaded necklace, gold brooch and large tortoise-shell hair comb. The dramatic background of shaded pink and blue gives the impression of a sunset, picks up the pink coloration of Louisa's skin and the pink touches in her shawl. This background is unlike any other in Powers' known paintings.
The portraits of Daniel and Louisa Griswold and four other Griswold and Field (Louisa's inlaws) family members have signatures "painted by powers & Rice" on the fronts. The reverse of Daniel's portrait is signed "painted by / Powers. & Rice / August 1.st 1835" in a flowery script that would be used by Powers during the next five years. The identity of Rice and his role in the painting of these few portraits is still a mystery. By 1836, Powers was again signing paintings with his name alone. However, the other Griswold-Field portraits (in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution) are dated 1837 and signed by both Powers and Rice.
By 1840, Powers had left Vermont and started west. Four portraits are known from Clinton and Franklin counties, New York. We know that Powers left a widow, Elizabeth M. Powers, in Plattsburg, NY although he died in Illinois. Powers work in the 1840s in New York show greater academic accomplishment, which is of less interest to folk art collectors. His earlier work of the 1830s is treasured by collectors.
The work of Asahel Lynde Powers shows the progression of folk art into the modern art of the early 20th century. The skewed perspectives and creative use of props and backgrounds (all slightly skewed in perspective) of the self-taught folk artists of the 19th century were characteristics sought by trained modern artists in the early 20th century. Powers' work represents some of the best, most sought-after of these self-taught artists.
Little, Nina Fletcher, Asahel Powers Painter of Vermont Faces (exhibition catalog). The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1973.
Lipman, Jean, Armstrong, Tom, eds., American Folk Painters of Three Centuries. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, 1980. 155-159.
Miles, Ellen, ed., Portrait Painting in America The Nineteenth Century, Main Street Press for The Magazine Antiques, 1977. 140-147.
Rumford, Beatrix T. American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. New York Graphic Society, 1981. 172-175.
Sarudy, Barbara Wells, "American Artist Asahel Lynde Powers 1813-1843", It's About Time, September 13, 2012.
Springfield Historical Society, "Asahel Lynde Powers - American Painter, 1813 to 1843", Springfield Historical Society blog, April 3, 2012.
William Matthew Prior (1806-1873)
William Matthew Prior was born to in Bath, Maine to sea captain, Matthew Prior, and his wife. Although little is known about his early training, the inscription on an 1824 portrait indicates that Prior may have received some training from Charles Codman. Codman was a portrait, landscape, marine, and sign painter who worked in Portland, Maine as early as 1823.
His son, Matthew Prior gave the following account of his father:
My father--yes--my father was thought a great deal of. He used to start out early in the he morning and always found plenty of work to do. It seems he was an independent young man, full of ambition, and he worked his way up in the scales so fast that in his early twenties he painted a portrait of A. Hammett, Esp. It was exhibited at the Boston Anthen æum in 1831. When he was a small boy he painted the portrait of a neighbor on the barn door, which created quite an excitement in the village. yes, he heard considerable about it. Young as he was, he made up his mind then and there to become an artist, and when he was old enough he took up the trade of the itinerant portrait painter, walking along the dusty roads with a pack on his back. . . . . .
Father was always an itinerant portrait painter, but now he acquired a horse and wagon, and accompanied by his wife he would start out with the back of the wagon full of canvases, and in this way he journeyed far afield throughout this state and other states as well, where, to this day, you may run across his paintings. When his two children grew out of babyhood, he carried them along with him, which made quite a family party, so it must have been quite a circumstance to put them all up for the purpose of getting a portrait painted. it was the habit of the day to give these artists food and lodging, which was included in the price of the portrait.6
Prior demonstrated that he was fully capable of painting realistic paintings and portraits in the academic style and did so upon request. He practiced a most practical pricing philosophy in which he offered a sitter either a fully realistic portrait or, for those who wanted to save money, he offered the naïve, “flat” style that is so desirable among collectors today. His advertisements offered “Persons wishing for a flat picture can have a likeness without shade or shadow at one quarter price.”
In 1828, Prior married Rosamond Clark Hamblin, sister of artist Sturtevant J. Hamblin, and moved with the Hamblin family to Boston where Prior established himself as one of the most versatile and locally influential painters of his day. He later traveled as far south as Baltimore to continue his profession with new sitters. The works of Prior, Hamblin, William Kennedy, George Hartwell and E.W. Blake practiced a style of portrait painting that became known as the Prior-Hamblin School of Art.
Prior wrote two religious books and claimed that his visionary beliefs enabled him to paint posthumous portraits “by spirit effect.” His second wife, Hannah Frances Walworth Prior, was a practicing clairvoyant in Boston.
The portraits of William Matthew Prior are in the permanent collections of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Fine Arts Museum San Francisco MH De Young, the Wadsworth Anthen æum Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the National Portrait Gallery and too many more to list here.
Hickman, Madelia & Pratt, Wayne, "The 'Celebrated' William Matthew Prior (1806-1873)", Antiques & Fine Art Magazine, online article at www.antiquesandfineart.com.
Krashes, David, "Understanding the Prior-Hamblen School of Artists A Little Bit Better", Maine Antique Digest, July, 2011, attached pdf graciously presented courtesy of Maine Antique Digest.
Rumford, Beatrix T. American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. New York Graphic Society, 1981. 176-81.
Sears, Clara Endicott, Some American Primitives: A Study of New England Faces and Folk Portraits, Kennikat Press, Inc., Port Washington, N.Y., 1941. 31-50.
6Sears, supra at 32-33.
Please view the Wm. M. Prior portrait currently in stock on the Portraits page.
The Prior-Hamblen School of artists are comprised of six New England artists who painted similar naïve portraits. The artists identified by Nina Fletcher Little as the Prior-Hamblen School are William Matthew Prior; his brother-in-law Sturtevant Hamlin; one of Hamblin's son-in-laws, George Hartwell (all working in Boston); William Kennedy, for whom Little showed no connection except that he was from Massachusetts; E.W. Blake who lived within walking distance of the Prior and Hamblen studio; and J. (Jacob) Bailey Moore of Candia, New Hampshire also for whom Little showed no direct relationship with Prior. This article includes short biographies for Sturtevant J. Hamblin (or Hamblen), George Hartwell, William Kennedy, and William Matthew Prior.
There is also good information about the Prior Hamblen School at the following reference:
Krashes, David, " Understanding the Prior-Hamblen School of Artists A Little Bit Better", Maine Antique Digest, July, 2011, attached pdf graciously presented courtesy of Maine Antique Digest.
Please view the Prior-Hamblen School portraits currently in stock on the Portraitspage.
William Verstille (1757-1803)
William Verstille was born in Boston in 1757, but raised in Wethersfield Connecticut when the family moved their in 1761. He was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, during which time he painted portrait miniatures of some of his officers. He married Eliza Sheldon in 1780 and moved to East Windsor, Connecticut, where the first five of the Verstille's six children were born.
Verstille worked in Connecticut, Philadelphia, southern Massachusetts, and New York City (where he obviously took notice and styled his work after John Ramage, New York's leading miniaturist). While in New York, he kept a detailed account book recording his commissions for mourning pieces, hairwork, and jewelry. While in Salem, Massachusetts, he painted several portraits of sea captains, setting them against a seascape background that often included a ship, a lighthouse, and sometimes a rowboat.
Verstille's brushwork shows a sketchy quality with thin, wavering lines. Modeling is minimal and effected by a blue or grey hatch. His sitters are portrayed with large, piercing, dark eyes, thin brows set close to the eyes, a long, somewhat crooked nose, then, slightly mispositioned lips that occasionally curl and the corners, and bristly hair. Backgrounds are frequently blue or grey, thickly painted and shaded with long, vertical grey hatches. Backgrounds on later works are often shaded with light blue. Details of costume are considered charmingly decorative but not rendered with the precision of the master John Ramage (for whom Verstille's work is often mistaken). The signature "Verstille" is often placed beside the sitter's shoulder, half hidden by shading.
Johnson, Dale T., American Portrait Miniatures In The Manney Collection. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1990. 223-25.
Henry Walton (1805 - 1865)
There is some confusion about Henry Walton's birth and death. Sources say he was born either in New York City or England in either 1804 or 1820. The 1804 date seems the most likely since the majority of his watercolor portraits date from the 1820s through the 1830s. He died either in 1865, in Michigan, or in 1873, in California. All sources seem to agree that he made a living with his watercolor portraits. By 1829, Walton was drawin on stone (making lithographs) for Pendletons of Boston, and is well-recognized for his lithographic cityscape work. He is known to have painted portraits in New York towns such as Elmira, Big Flats, Addison, and Painted Post. In 1851, Walton left the East for the gold rush of California. In 1857, Walton and his wife, Jane Orr Walton, moved to Michigan where they lived until the end of their lives. I found an undated marriage record on Ancestry.com for Jane Orr marrying Henry Walton....although the marriage record was undated, it gave Jane Orr's birthyear as 1804, making it more likely that Walton's birthyear was 1804. But see Note below. I also found a marriage record on FamilySearch.org saying that Henry Walton and Jane Orr were married in Cass, Michigan June 20, 1839.
It is thought that Walton might have had some architectural training because the detail of his town-views and the backgrounds of his portraits are so precisely depicted. It is less likely that he had any academic training for his portraiture work which displays the naïve that folk art collectors cherish. Leigh Rehner wrote,
Apparently neither a complete amateur nor academy-trained, in his small water color portraits . . . he shares with the primitive or naïve portrait painter some of the pitfalls (or charms, depending on the present-day taste of the viewer) of inaccurate perspective, in contrast with the control of perspective in his town-views. One result of this "failure," the lengthening and flattening of the figure, consciously pursued by artists of other periods, occurs frequently in primitive painting. At times, the opposite can be noted; torsos and arms appear foreshortened, and size relationships may be somewhat erroneous (this can be seen in the rather large heads of some of the children he painted). Although these distortions were never extreme in Walton's work, he nevertheless shows increasing mastery over these tendencies; we may perhaps assume he was aware of these problems.&nbnbsp; He futehr shares with the primitive portraitist a lovely quality of abstraction, quite pronounced in his early water colors as well as in his first oil.7
Note: Thanks to a kind reader, Floyd Deal, who was researching a member of the Orr family to whom he is related, found Henry & his wife, Jane Orr Walton's burial marker in Prospect Hill Cemetery, Cassopolis, Michigan. The headstone confirms that Henry Walton died on April 25, 1865. The marker also gives his birthday at 1805. Having readers contact me with family information about artists or sitters is always exciting and I love to give credit where credit is due (if the researcher agrees for me to release a name). I strongly encourage all of you to contact me with new information about these artists. That's how scholarship progresses! Thanks to Floyd!
Jones, Leigh Rehner, Artist of Ithaca: Henry Walton and His Odyssey. Herbert Johnson Museum, Ithaca, New York. 1988.
Lipman, Jean & Winchestor, Alice, The Flowering of American Folk Art (1776-1876). Penhuen Books Ltd. 1977. Plate 40 at 41 & 282.
Rehner, Leigh, Henry Walton: 19th Century American Artist. Ithaca College Museum Of Art, Ithaca, N. Y., 1969.
Rumford, Beatrix T. American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. New York Graphic Society, 1981. 190-191.
7 Rehner, supra, at 12.
Thomas Ware (1803 – 1826 or 1827)
Thomas Ware was born in Pomfret, Vermont to Frederick and Jemima Manning Ware. Frederick apparently liked having a very large family because Thomas had 3 step-sisters born during Frederick’s first marriage and Thomas was the tenth of twelve children born of the second marriage! Thomas grew up with another important Vermont folk artist, Benjamin Franklin Mason. When Mason was 9 years old, he was confined to his bed to recuperate from surgery. Thomas encouraged his friend to draw, copying engravings in books. The two friends continued to draw, using chalk and coal. Ware met portraitist Abraham Tuthill from whom Ware learned the techniques of painting in oil. In 1823-25, Ware and Mason were in school and painting together in Woodstock.
When Arthur & Sybil Kern published their article, “Thomas Ware: Vermont Portrait Painter”, only 41 portraits by Ware had been identified, all in oil on either wood panel or canvas. All but two are bust length (really these are half-length but generally referred to as bust-length in publications discussing his work) with the sitters shown in three-quarter view and filling most of the frame. With a few exceptions, women generally face slightly to their left and men to their right. All portraits are strikingly similar (which is not surprising since they were all painted within the period of 4 to 6 years) with wide-open eyes, large ears, large eyebrows, heaving shading along the line of the nose and a deep depression in the midline of the upper lip. Hands are generally not shown unless holding a prop such as a book or spectacles. Young women generally have a tortoise shell haircomb and prominent ringlets in front of their ears. Backgrounds are generally dark and subjects usually have a dark outline and a source of strong light usually comes from the side on which the sitter is slightly turned away from, casting a strong shadow to the front of the slightly turned subject. Some of Ware’s portraits bear inscriptions on the reverse, painted by the artist identifying the sitter and less frequently including his signature. Since no advertisements have been found for Thomas Ware as an artist, it is thought that he was commissioned solely through word of mouth. Thomas Ware reportedly died, unmarried, in Whitehall at the age of 23 or 24.
Kern, Arthur B. & Sybil B., “Thomas Ware: Vermont Portrait Painter”, The Clarion Winter 1983/1984, 36-45.
American Paintings at Harvard: Paintings, watercolors, pastels, and stained glass by artists born 1826-1856, Harvard Art Museums, 2014. 508
Please view the Thomas Ware portrait currently in inventory on the Portraits page.
Mary Way (1769-1833)
Mary Way was born in 1769 in New London, Connecticut to Ebenezer and Mary Taber Way. Her family helped settle New London in the mid-seventeenth century. Mary never married and her letters indicate that she was too independent for the thought of marriage. It was difficult for a single woman to make a living in the late 18th century, but Mary turned her skills as a seamstress and an artist into an active and successful career as the first professional female artist in America.
Mary combined her skills of sewing and painting to produce "dressed miniatures"--tiny cut-paper profiles with the face and hair painted with watercolor, the clothing cut from various materials--stitched and glued in place, highlights added to the clothing with additional paint, and finally pasted onto a fabric background. Although Mary was not the first or the last to create dressed miniatures, she was certainly the most successful. She created these dressed miniatures only for period of 12 to 15 years at the end of the 19th century. As of 1997, only 36 dressed miniatures that are reasonably attributable to Mary Way had been recorded.
Although Mary appears to have stopped creating her lovely dressed miniatures after 1800, she continued her profession as a painter of portrait miniatures. Self-taught and competing against the most accomplished artists in America, Mary Way had an active business in New York City from 1811-1819. Her advertisements in The Columbian and the New York Evening Post in 1811 stated:
Mary Way, portrait and miniature painted from New-London, Connecticut. Takes likenesses upon ivory or glass in colors or gold, landscapes or views of country seats, &c &c. Paintings not approved may be returned without charge at her painting room, No. 95, Greenwich-Street, where specimens of her performance may be seen and the prices made known. hours of attendance from 11 o'clock till 3.
Mary supplemented her income by teaching painting, embroidery, lace work, and other subjects to young ladies while she was living in both New London and New York. Mary Way's miniatures on ivory exhibit a skill comparable to the best of American miniatures portraiture on ivory of its time in levels of sophistication and sensitivity to character. Her work was exhibited at American Academy in 1818.
The facial features of the miniatures that Mary painted on paper or ivory show the same style as those of her dressed miniatures. Her dressed miniatures were placed on black fabric to emphasis the profile. She used a dark wash background for her painted miniatures to achieve the same result. Mary Way's dressed miniatures and painted profiles are exceedingly rare and greatly sought by collectors.
Frank, Robin Jafee, Love and Loss American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 2000. 199-204.
Kelly, Catherine, "Object Lessons: Miniature Worlds", Common-Place.org, Vol. 3, No. 2, January 2003.
MacMullen, Ramsay, Sisters of the Brush Their Family, Art, Life, and Letters 1797-1833, PastTimes Press, New Haven, Conn., 1997.
Visit this blog about Mary Way, written by, Cheryl-Lynn May, a graduate student in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture. She is writing her thesis on Mary Way and dressed miniatures. Very exciting stuff!
Henry Williams (1787-1830)
Bostonian Henry Williams cut profiles with added watercolor embellishment for hair and collar adornments around the edge of his machine-drawn, hollow cut silhouettes. According to his advertisements, he also painted miniatures and portraits on ivory and portraits in oil and pastel (or "crayons" as pastel was called in the 18th and 19th centuries). His hollow cut silhouettes were signed with an impressed signature in capital letters "WILLIAMS". His silhouettes are confidently cut with lovely extras such as small, narrow cuts for cravat ties and forelock hair. His added adornment finishes his hollow cut silhouettes with great flourish. One of his early advertisements described his work as follows:
or no pay
Henry Williams will take correct Profile Likenesses with his new machine; and which takes 16 different sizes down to a quarter of an inch; cut on beautiful wove paper--may have two or four cut for 25 cts. -- elegantly framed with enameled glasses from 75 cts. to 1 dol., 1.50 and 2 dols.
Miniatures and Portraits executed upon Ivory; Portraits in Oil and Crayons; profiles painted upon glass; likewise on Ivory -- from 3 to 4 dols. Also, Glass Miniature Settings, for Sale, from 10 to 16 and 20 dols.
Profile Frames for sale, oval, round, square or circular, of various sizes; by the dozen, gross or single, cheaper than can be purchased in Boston.
N.B. Constant attention from 7 o'clock in the morning, until 9 in the evening.
This advertisements was found in an 1806 newspaper, when he would have been nineteen years old. No signed examples of Williams' painted profiles on ivory or glass are known. His hollow cut work is very scarcely found and very desirable.
Williams is considered a versatile artist doing work in pastel, silhouette, wax portraits, oil portraits, miniature portraits and engravings. He was listed as an anatomist in the Boston directories of the 1820s. He published Elements of Drawing in 1814. The book includes an essay and twenty-six engraved copper-plate portraits and other figures. Williams was most active in miniature painting from 1808-1826. At the end of 1806, Williams was in partnership with William M.S. Doyle in Boston. Many works between the years 1810 and 1820 are signed by both Williams & Doyle.
Fellow artist William Dunlap described Williams as follows: “He was a small, short, self-sufficient man; very dirty, and very forward and patronizing in his manner.” Williams silhouettes are always hollow cut and have India Ink embellishments around the edges. They are often signed with an impressed stamp “WILLIAMS”. His portrait miniatures display great detail and the sitters tend to have large, round eyes with heavy top and bottom eyelids. Mouths show slight pouchiness. The tips of noses are strongly highlighted. Most works show strong value contrasts. The backgrounds are of a mottled neutral color with light to heavy shadowing to indicate light coming in from the sitter’s back. This allows the pale ivory surface to often show through the light hatching on one side of the sitter.
Barratt, Carrie Rebora and Zabar, Lori, American Portrait Miniatures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Yale University Press, New Haven and London. 2010. 114-16.
Johnson, Dale T., American Portrait Miniatures in the Manny Collection. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York. 1990. 232-33.
Micah Williams (1782-1837)
The tombstone of Micah Williams in North Brunswick Township, New Jersey, gives his birthdate as 1782 and his death as November 21, 1837. His birthplace is believed to be near Hempstead, New York, but that is not confirmed. He married Margaret H. Priestly, daughter of John and Catherine Voorhees Priestly, on December 24, 1806. Public records show he had six children. Williams and his brother-in-law had a successful silver plating business. However, the Embargo Act of 1807, the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809 and the War of 1812 all combined to cause a severe economic depression and the silver plating business collapsed. The Williams family had all of their possessions seized and Williams, himself, went to debtor's prison 1815 (he was released from the Middlesex County jail in New Brunswick, NJ in the spring of 1815.
Once Williams was released from jail, he set about establishing himself as an itinerant portrait painter and supported his family in that field for the next twenty years. Early in his career as an portraitist, Williams worked in New Jersey, including the New Jersey counties of Middlesex, Monmouth, Bergen, Somerset and Essex with most of his clients being from Middlesex and Monmouth. In the three years between 1818 and 1821, Williams produced over sixty pastel portraits of Monmouth County residents.
In 1828, Williams and his family moved to New York City, where he learned to paint in oils. About fifteen oil portraits are thought to survive from this time period. He continued to work in pastels throughout his career.
Williams portraits were hailed by his clients, as evidenced by a note of praise published in 1823 in the Paterson Chronicle and Essex and Bergen Advertiser. After noting that Williams was self-taught the note stated:
we . . . cheerfully express our opinion of his correctness of design and execution, as well worth the patronage of an enlightened public.
Gerard Rutgers noted in his March 19, 1823 diary
this morning my Son Anthony went to Newark, and M. Williams Portrait Painter took my likeness, he began in The Morning and finished by Sundown.
Williams and his family returned to New Brunswick in 1832. The pastel portraits from 1832-1835 (the last three years of his career) show a sophistication that is lacking in his folkier, more naïve pre-New York work. It is believed that Williams received training from an artist while in New York, but this has not been confirmed.
It seems that Williams stopped painting in 1835. A newspaper report of a tornado hitting New Brunswick on June 19, 1835, described one of the hardest hit structures as "Occupied by Mr. Williams." Thus, it is believed that the catastrophic even contributed to the end of his career as an artist. It appears that when Williams died in 1837, his family was again impoverished.
Williams worked mostly in pastels, which according to a descendent, he made himself. He stretched a sheet of pastel paper onto a sheet of newspaper, then attach the layers of paper to a wooden stretcher, usually of white pine and fastened at the corners with half-lap joints. This method allowed Williams to prop his work against pieces of furniture, which negated his having to carry an easel. Also, the use of newspaper provided a later importance to art historians because the dates of the newspapers document the time the portraits were completed. Many of his paintings have monochromatic backgrounds, but some have landscapes with trees and grassy hills and others showed interiors with elegant draperies and architectural moldings. His pastel work is acclaimed for its "brilliant colors, stylized figures and hands, bold patterns and its distinctive yet realistic effect, although he tended to use standard poses and costumes for his sitters." Williams characteristically painted his sitters eyes as almond-shaped and gave them chubby fingers. The majority of his identified work was done between 1818 and 1830 in the vicinity of Monmouth County, New Jersey.
Bernadette M. Rogoff, "Micah Williams, Some Recent Discoveries", The Magazine Antiques, January 2009.
Rumford, Beatrix T. American Folk Portraits Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. New York Graphic Society, 1981. 193-95.
Joseph Wood (about 1778-1852)
Wood was born in Clarkstown, New York, to a farmer who was also the town sheriff. Legend has it that Wood’s father locked him in the courthouse steeple because the child neglected other work so he could draw. In 1793, against his father’s wishes, and at the age of only 15, Wood walked to New York City with only a few dollars. His plan was to start his profession as a sketch artist. After several years of doing odd jobs during the winters and playing the violin during the summers, legend is Wood happened upon a portrait miniature in a shop window and asked permission to copy it. Such was the start of his professional career as a portrait artist in 1801. In 1804, Wood formed a partnership with John Wesley Jarvis, painting portrait miniatures, and profiles in both full color and silhouette. The partnership, financially, was very successful and Wood and Jarvis became known as a lively pair in social circles, entertaining others with humor, “fiddling and fluting”. During the partnership, both artists met and trained under Edward Malbone. However, the Jarvis-Wood partnership dissolved in 1809, probably due to Jarvis’ wild ways with the ladies. Woods continued working in New York City until about 1813, when he moved to Philadelphia. He exhibited at the Philadelphia Academy. In 1827, Wood moved to Washington DC where he continued to establish himself as an important portrait artist. He spent the rest of his career in DC except for occasional itinerant visits to Baltimore and Philadelphia. Wood is mainly known for his portrait miniatures but also painted a few full-size portraits. His work is incredibly precise and detailed. Wood’s portrait miniatures are in the collections of numerous major museums. The Smithsonian American Art Museum has a full-size portrait on wood panel by Wood of a young man in the style of this offered portrait and with the same dark amber background color. Woods gathered the patronage of prominent leaders of the early 19th century, including Andrew Jackson, President James Madison and his wife Dolly Madison. Wood was more academic than folk artist, but I want to share his info with you and, since I don't have an academic portrait artists page, I'm including him here!
Falk, Peter Hastings, Who Was Who in American art 1564-1975, Vol. III: P-Z, Sound View Press 2001, 3626.
Bolton, Theodore, Early American Portrait Draftsmen In Crayons, Da Capo Press, New York, 1970, 98 – 99.
Carrick, Alice Van Leer, Shades of Our Ancestors American Profiles and Profilists, Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1928, 55 – 56.