With an hypnotic stare and distinctive, exaggerated almond-shaped eyes, this work is one of the celebrated portraits produced by the short-lived husband and wife partnership of Samuel Addison (1803-1836) and Ruth Whittier (1803-1882) Shute. Working throughout New England and New York in the first half of the 1830s, they sought to capture the likenesses of many who were drawn to the industrial towns springing up alongside the textile mills.
Ruth Whittier was born in Dover, New Hampshire, where she married Freemason and physician Dr. Samuel Shute in 1827. Shortly after their marriage they each began painting portraits on commission, travelling throughout the greater Boston area and announcing their arrival in the local newspapers. For four years after their marriage, they apparently worked separately, though comparison of the works attributed to each reveal the influence of the other. Their first collaborations date from 1831 and continue only through mid-1833, when Samuel became ill. These works, including the present lot, are considered to be the finest of the Shutes' collective output, merging the skills of husband and wife to great effect. They are often executed on large-format paper in a characteristic combination of media, including pencil, watercolor, and gouache with details in gilt foil. Some of these bear the dual signature Drawn by R. W. Shute/ and/ Painted by S. A. Shute, indicating that Ruth was responsible for the carefully delineated eyes, lace details and postures of the subjects, while Samuel painted in the backgrounds, often in horizontal or diagonal stripes, and filled in the figures. By September 1833, it appears that the husband and wife collaboration ceased, with Ruth beginning to sign her works individually and her output switching to mainly oil paintings. By December of that year, the couple had moved to Champlain, New York, where relatives of Samuel resided, possibly indicating that he had a lingering illness. They remained until Samuel’s death in 1836, at which time Ruth brought her husband’s body back to Concord, New Hampshire, for burial. She remained there until 1840, when she married Alpha Tarbell and moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where she continued painting for the remainder of her life (Helen Kellogg, “Ruth W. and Samuel A. Shute” American Folk Painters of Three Centuries, Jean Lipman and Tom Armstrong, eds. (New York, 1980), pp. 165-170).
The subject of the present lot is Sarah Chandler Emerson (d. 1852), who married Richard (1798-1830), a journeyman shoemaker, in 1819 in Andover, Massachusetts. The couple had three children before Richard died in 1830, including Jeremiah Hurd and Eliza (1820-1905). It appears Sarah moved with the children to Nashua, New Hampshire by 1832, as the portrait by the Shutes of Jeremiah (fig. 1; Sold, Sotheby’s, New York, Important American Folk Art from the Collection of Ralph O. Esmerian, 25 January 2014, lot 625) includes an inscription on his book reading The Progressive Reader/ Jeremiah H/ Emerson/ Nashua, NH. It is known that the Shutes were working in this location based on another signed work dating to October of 1832 (Kellogg, p. 168), thus establishing a likely date for the present lot. The family can later be traced to Lowell, Massachusetts, where Jeremiah is recorded in the 1845 vital records with his intention to marry Eliza Hall in March of that year. It was also in Lowell where the present lot was sold at auction in 1924 as a group comprising the portrait of Jeremiah as well as those of Phoebe Buxton and her son Frederick (in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum, gift of Ralph O. Esmerian), also painted by the Shutes (Stacy C. Hollander, American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum (New York, 2001), p. 389, cat. no. 21). A connection between the Buxton and Emerson family has yet to be made, although Phoebe operated a boarding house known as the Merrimac Corporation in Lowell from 1827 to 1834, at which a Lowell directory lists Dr. Samuel Shute residing (David A. Schorsch, advertisement, The Clarion, The Museum of American Folk Art, New York (Winter 1986) p. 16). Based on the label on the back of the present lot, it appears the group was purchased at auction by Florence A. Lincoln (1882-1969) of Charlestown, Massachusetts, who attended the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University and was the author of several plays.