Exquisitely rendered watercolors of a husband and wife, these portraits relate closely to works attributed to the collaboration of husband and wife Samuel Addison Shute (1803-1836) and Ruth Whittier Shute (1803-1882). From available evidence, it appears that Samuel’s hand is more evident in these works though it very possible that Ruth also contributed to their execution. Shute-attributed portraits appear to feature two very different types of facial drawing, suggesting that husband and wife each had their own style. Many depict a frontal face with heavy shading around the nose and mouth, a contrast to the three-quarter pose with virtually no shading seen in the portraits offered here. A portrait of Joseph Gilman Parker with a face rendered in the first style is inscribed Drawn by R.W. Shute / and / Painted by S.A. Shute (American Folk Art Museum, acc. no. 2001.17.1). This suggests that the heavily shaded faces were the work of Ruth and the minimally-shaded faces in outline illustrate Samuel’s hand. The faces on these portraits are delicately delineated with a minimal application of rosy pigment to the cheeks of the woman. A portrait of a woman attributed to the Shutes at the New-York Historical Society displays remarkably similar facial drawing and similar renditions are seen in a pair of portraits of Isaac Orr and Mary Johnson Orr, attributed to Samuel only (New-York Historical Society, acc. no. 1937.450; the Orr portraits were offered by David A. Schorsch-Eileen M. Smiles American Antiques, see Roberta Smith, “Worlds Within Worlds Mix It Up at The Winter Show,” The New York Times, February 19, 2020). Like the faces, the woman’s hand is neatly rendered in outline and compares favorably with hands seen in many Shute portraits, such as that at the New-York Historical Society cited above.
Details of the sitters’ dress also support a Shute attribution. Most tellingly, the eyelit trim of the woman’s dress is expressed by repeated pencilled motifs representing the voids on top of white paint. One of these motifs is a small circle with three pointed leaf shapes. Almost identical pencilled detailing appears on the apron of Caroline Smith in her 1830 portrait attributed to the Shutes (Sotheby’s, New York, January 23-25, 2015, lot 892). The husband wears a black jacket with “puffy” sleeves, a waistcoat rendered with a single black line and a shirt ruffle sketched in pencil. In addition to the portrait of Joseph Gilman Parker cited above, other male portraits by the Shutes with these details include those of Samuel French and Josiah C. Burnham (National Gallery of Art, acc. no. 1971.82.32 and American Folk Art Museum, acc. no. 2013.1.10). These works are on a smaller scale than the vast majority of the Shutes' portraits. However, they are almost identical in size to those of Josiah C. Burnham (cited above) and his wife Abigail.
As noted at the time of their sale in 1986, the portraits were found in East Lyme, Connecticut and thought to depict Silas Sherman and Rebecca Lee. The latter is probably Rebecca Leek (1805-1888) of East Hampton who married Silas Sherman. Little is known of Sherman, who is often confused with Silas E. Sherman (1809-1872) in the genealogical record. In the 1850 census, the couple were living in East Hampton and had 16 year-old Eleanor (Elnora) and 7 year-old Almeran. The man in the portrait wears a gold anchor pin and was thought to be a sea captain; however, Silas' occupation in 1850 was listed as shoemaker. Thereafter, Silas disappears from the record. Eleanor Sherman married Jeremiah Clark (1820-1910) in East Lyme in 1854 and by 1860, Rebecca and Almeran were also living in East Lyme. The vast majority of their neighbors were either seamen or fisherman, as was Almeran, and it is possible that Silas also had ties to the sea.