Thursday, October 4, 2012

Samuel Miller, Emily Moulton, 1852

Samuel Miller, Emily Moulton, 1852 from the Currier Museum

"Some portrait painters’ lives remain a mystery, though their works still survive. Samuel Miller, (American c. 1807-1853) painted an image of Emily Moulton (1852). (We know some details about Emily, the sitter, because the painting remained in her family until it came to the Currier.) An inscription on the back of the painting reads: "Painted in 1852 by Mr. Miller who lived on the south corner of Pearl and Bartlett Streets, Charlestown, Mass., USA". Records from 1852 list Samuel Miller as a portrait painter living in Charlestown, but beyond that there was no trace of him. Thus, it was assumed that Miller was an itinerant painter who never stayed anywhere long enough to be documented and perhaps died young. However, a Boston historian has discovered Miller’s death certificate showing that the artist was born in Boston around 1806 and died in Charlestown in 1853. He appears to have specialized in full-length portraits of children, often shown with pets and flowers, similar to folk painting, with the use of flat areas of bright color with a tendency toward simplification. Moreover, a number of works attributed to Miller because of their stylistic similarities to Emily Moulton, can now be dated with some accuracy. One point remains puzzling…if this is Emily, as family tradition maintained, she would have been 18 when Miller painted this portrait. Does she look 18 to you? Clearly the sitter here is younger than eighteen, raising several questions: Whether the portrait in fact represents one of the younger Moulton daughters, whether it depicts someone else entirely, or whether the work could be a copy of an earlier image of Emily.

Itinerant painters did not have the training or the established following that portrait artists in larger cities enjoyed. Some learned the trade as apprentices; others were self-taught and copied the conventions of portraiture from engravings of European portraits. Most itinerant painters had little training or were self-taught. They relied on native ability and the skills they had acquired as sign, house or coach painters to depict what they saw. Despite their lack of formal training, they often captured the essence of the sitter’s personality."

From this great page at the Currier Website:

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