ERASTUS SALISBURY FIELD (AMERICAN 1805-1900). PAIR OF PORTRAITS OF PHILLIPS AND FRANCES STANTON MERRILL OF PITTSFIELD MASSACHUSETTS, CIRCA 1836.
In Mary Black’s introduction to “American Folk Painting,” the book she co-authored with Jean Lipman in 1966, she describes four ancestral portraits hanging in the dark staircase of her grandfather’s house. They were Erastus Salisbury Field’s portraits of Hosea and Sarah Merrill and their son and daughter-in-law, Phillips and Frances Merrill, the paintings offered here. Mrs. Black wrote “I remember them always, but my awareness of them came slowly. Eventually they became personages more real than some of my bearded great-uncles and their frail wives… Often my brother and I would watch them from between the stair rails… it seemed to us that they looked back… As time went by, I began to see the paintings as something more than startlingly realistic portrayals. When I finally became aware that they were not only faithful likenesses, but well-organized compositions that emphasized faces by contrasts and highlighting of costume and gesture, the renaissance of interest in American folk art was well underway.”Phillips Merrill (1790-1873) was a farmer and lumberman in western Massachusetts. He and Frances Stanton (1794-1867) were married in 1815. Phillips’ father, Hosea, was a Revolutionary War veteran who, according to family tradition, acted as a guard for Major Andre during Andre’s imprisonment. Field’s portraits of the elder Merrills are now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts.Each oil on canvas, 35 x 28 ¾ inches. Each with printed exhibition labels on the reverse.
Provenance: Descended in the family of the sitters to the personal collection of Mary Black, noted folk art scholar and curator; and by descent in her family. Exhibition &
Literature: “Erastus Salisbury Field: 1805-1900,” Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, February 5 – April 1, 1984 and the National Museum of American Art and National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., June 10 – September 4, 1984, nos. 44 and 45. Discussed and illustrated in the exhibition catalog by Mary Black, pp. 21, 23 and 102, figs. 19 and 20.