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The Work of Erastus Salisbury Field, 1805-1900

( Article orginally From March 1963 )

Special Exhibition: The Work of Erastus Salisbury Field, 1805-1900
At the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection, Williamsburg, Virginia, through March 17, 1963

Folk Portraitist Erastus Field, whose canvases show much of the social, religious, and historical temper of his day, was born in Leverett, Massachusetts in 1805. In 1824 he studied for three months under Samuel F. B. Morse in New York City, returning to the Connecticut Valley to work as an itinerant portrait painter. In 1831 he married Phebe Gilmur in Ware, Massachusetts. Their only child, Henrietta, was born in 1832.

In the next ten years, Field executed some of his finest paintings, but with the popularization of the daguerreotype about 1840, his commissions dwindled. He tried, unsuccessfully, to adapt his painting technique to the likenesses produced by the photographer, using photographs rather than sittings from life. After his wife died in 1859, he worked as a farmer to support himself and his daughter, finishing canvas after canvas, but rarely selling one. In 1872 he began work on his masterpiece, "Historical Monument of the American Republic," which was completed July 4, 1876. He died in June 1900.

Field's works were rediscovered when a pair of portraits, "Boy on a Stenciled Carpet" and "Child with Rattle," were shown at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932. Artist and subjects were anonymous then, but the artist was identified in 1942 through a ",Somebody's Ancestors" exhibit at the Springfield (Mass.) Museum of Fine Arts. Now some 150 portraits and 30 subject pieces are attributed to him.

Below: Historical Monument of the American Republic, ca. 1876 with later additions, MAT. Towers represent colonies and states in varying styles according to circumstances. Springfield Museum of Fine Art.





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