Springfield Library and Museums Association

Springfield, MA



Folk Art from the Museum Collection


A collection of paintings by 19th-century folk artists will be on display at the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum from October 28, 1998-0ctober 20, 1999 in the special exhibition Folk Art from the Museum Collection.

Featured in the exhibition will be portraits by James Sanford Ellsworth, an itinerant artist who is best known for his miniature watercolor portraits of middle class New England families. Large oil portraits by Ellsworth are rare, and the museum is fortunate to have recently acquired Portrait of a Woman, its third large Ellsworth. The painting will be displayed here for the first time in this exhibition. As with the museum's two other large portraits by Ellsworth, the identity of the subject is not known.

The Connecticut Valley Historical Museum owns the largest public eollection of Ellsworth miniatures. All 39 of these, plus three large oil paintings and some silhouettes, will be displayed, along with paintings by other 19th-century folk artists.

Ellsworth (c.1802-c.1874) was born in Windsor, Connecticut, and worked as an itinerant artist throughout New England, painting primarily in the Connecticut Valley and the Berkshires from the 1840s to the 1850s. A distinguishing feature of his miniature portraits is the gray, scalloped cloud-like shape behind his subjects' heads. His sitters are usually depicted from the waist up, often seated in stylized period chairs that seem to rise from the clouds.

James Sanford Ellsworth's artistry marked the end of an era. By the 1850s, self-taught itinerant portrait painters, who had been actively pursuing their craft in New England since colonial times, were being replaced by photographers. Photographs gave a more accurate representation of the subject in less time than a painted portrait, they were cheaper, and it was possible to produce multiple copies.


Top to bottom: James Sanford Ellsworth, William Almon Tice and Persis Abigail (Morgan) Tice, c. 1847, watercolor on paper; James Sanford Ellsworth, Mary Curtiss, c. 1849, watercolor on paper; James Sanford Ellsworth, Portrait of a Woman.

rev. 11/26/10

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