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Maker(s):Field, Erastus Salisbury
Culture:American (1805-1900)
Title:portrait: Mary Jones
Date Made:ca. 1836
Materials:oil, canvas, wood
Place Made:United States; Massachusetts; Hadley
Measurements:framed: 34 3/8 in x 30 in; 87.3125 cm x 76.2 cm
Accession Number:  HD 2001.28.1
Credit Line:Anonymous partial gift and partial purchase with funds from the Hall and Kate Peterson Fund for Paintings, Prints, Drawings, and Photographs
Museum Collection:  Historic Deerfield

Framed oil painting of Mary Jones (1817-1865) painted by Erastus Salisbury Field (1805-1900) probably in 1836, the year that she married John Clark of Hadley. According to notes in the data file from the Clark family about the portrait, "When went out to Missouri, we thought we'd be lonesome without her so we took her with us rolled up on horseback." A note from John M. Clark of Amherst, Massachusetts, dated Mar. 19 1949, states: "I first saw the painting of my grandmother (Mary Jones Clark) when my fathers house in North Hadley Mass. was having repairs made in 1884. It was lying on the floor in a closet under broken lath and plater. When we went to Columbia Mo. (University of Missouri my mother had it gone over and framed by the head of the Art Department there." Born in Leverett, Mass., Field worked mainly painting the middle-class citizens of rural New England. Though he studied painting with Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872) in New York for 3 months from Dec. 1824 to Feb. 1825, Field continued to paint in a country style. His portraits, with their flat compositions and blunt directness, were popular in rural towns and small cities along the Connecticut River Valley, from Greenfield and Northampton in the north to Hartford and New Haven in the south. His rapid style conveyed details of clothing and facial expressions with minimum brushwork; Field could complete a full portrait of an adult sitter in a day's time at a cost of $5, and created over 1500 paintings over his career. Although each portrait captures a distinct personality, his portraits share stiffly formal characteristics such as refined silk dresses, woolen coats, and mahogany furniture, along with other symbols of fashion, status, education, and civic-mindedness. The early portraits often depict their subjects with triangular-shaped shoulders and elf-like ears. After decades as an itinerant portrait painter, Field met the new competition from photography (introduced by his former teacher, Morse) by using the technology to provide his portraits with sharper realism; he later became interested in romantic, imaginative landscapes that illustrate religious allegories, and political and historical narratives, the best-known being his "Historical Monument of the American Republic" in the Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Mass. This portrait shows Mary Jones in a stiff, formal pose holding a book in her right hand, with sharp, triangular lines defining the her face, shoulders, and clothing and great detail expanded on her white fichu or collar. The collar (HD 2001.28.2) and finger ring (HD 2001.28.3) shown in the painting came with the painting, and confirm that Field painted Mary Jones from life. The donor replaced a gold frame with this wooden frame.

Label Text:
Erastus Salisbury Field painted this portrait of Mary Jones (1817-1865) in 1836, the year she married John Clark of Hadley, Massachusetts. Field was born in Leverett, Massachusetts, and primarily painted rural, middle-class New Englanders. Field could complete a full portrait of an adult sitter in a day’s time at a cost of $5.00, and created more than 1500 paintings throughout his career. Having a portrait painted by an itinerant artist such as Field was an important event, and Jones appeared very much in fashion for her sitting. The survival of her ring and collar confirm that Field painted Mary Jones from life.

Nineteen-year-old Mary Jones (1817-1865) of Hadley had her portrait painted by local artist Erastus Salisbury Field, who undertook many similar commissions for area families. The artist concentrated on certain details of the sitter, such as her face and hair, embroidered collar and cuffs, and jewelry. Amazingly, some of these items survive with the painting and underscore the role of realism at this point in the artist’s career. Field’s general representation of the dress itself, which matches other known works painted by the artist in Historic Deerfield’s collection, also suggests a formulaic approach that accelerated both his painting and reputation as an artist.

Mary Jones (1817-1865) had her portrait painted by the itinerant artist Erastus Field in the year of her marriage to fellow Hadley resident John Clark (1804-1884). Field painted from life the sitter’s face and hair, lace collar, and ring. However, his painterly treatment of the dress itself suggests a more representational, generic fashion. Despite his artistic license, the huge sleeves of Jones’s dress were an actual aspect of fashionable women’s clothing at the time, supported by shaping devices like the sleeve plumper or pillow on display nearby.


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