This charming portrait of a mischievous little boy is a superb example of the work of William Matthew Prior. Based on the price his customer was willing to pay, the renowned folk artist produced paintings of various sizes and degrees of realism. This piece was likely at the top end of his price range as it is full length and depicts the child in fancy dress with a broken favorite toy, a hammer and a pet dog. Prior executed this portrait with a high level of detail and depth that he reserved for his most important works. Dated 1854 at Trenton Street in South Boston, this piece was painted at the height of Prior’s career when many of his full length portraits were completed. With the invention of the daguerreotype, Prior likely responded by producing paintings full of detail and color, like the present work, to compete with photography. (Jacquelyn Oak and Gwendolyn Dubois Shaw, Artist and Visionary: William Matthew Prior Revealed (Cooperstown, NY, 2012).
The reverse of this canvas is inscribed Wm. H. Merrill, but interestingly the name Liscomb is inscribed above. It has been determined based on family history and dating that this portrait depicts William Henry Liscomb of Portland, Maine. The painting was passed on to his brother and descended in the family to the current owner.