Friday, July 13, 2007
"Passed" Painter of the Day
This Friday's "passed" painter is Erastus Salisbury Fields. (1805-1900) Wow! He lived quite a long time. When Erastus was 19, he worked in the portrait studio of Samuel F.B. Morse in New York City for 3 months. This was all the "formal" training he had, and for most of his life he lived and painted in Massachusetts.
He must have had quite a bit of natural talent because he was in demand and as a result, he developed a portrait technique that allowed him to paint half a body a day, and did quite well with it. These portraits were priced at $4.00 a sitting and his "short-cuts", like black dots over white to show lace, and sharp features that "resembled" the subject (like pointy ears), allowed him to paint quickly, and please his customers. Here are two examples of the half-body technique, (Mr. and Mrs. Pearce© 1835), and I think I would have paid $4.00 for him to paint my likeness...no matter how pointy he made my ears!
In 1839 the daguerreotype was invented and became very popular. This invention put a lot of portrait artist out of work because people wanted an authentic image of themselves, not an artist's interpretation. However, Erastus tried to use this to his advantage. He offered portraits painted of the likenesses of the photographs! This business angle dwindled in enthusiasm and demand....have you seen a vintage photo? They don't smile and everyone looks sad. Can you imagine what a painting of lifeless looking sad people would look like? :)
Erastus decided to start a new painting venue and began painting biblical and historical subjects. He made painting his life's career and seemed to be a man of progress, accepting changes along the way and having those changes work to his advantage.
Kind of a "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" philosophy of life!
Treasures of American Folk Art, Beatrix Rumford and Carolyn Weekley© 1989