The epitome of simplicity, restraint and youthful charm, this portrait is an exceptional example of the work of itinerant Connecticut folk painter Erastus Salisbury Field. Born in 1805, in Leverett, Massachusetts, Field was a largely self-taught artist, working in the Connecticut River Valley. In 1824 Field moved to New York to study with portrait painter Samuel F. B. Morse and began a successful career as a portrait artist.
The 1830s were a productive time in the artist's career as he worked mostly for commissions generated from his family connections and further recommendations. Field's paintings often portray the sitter facing forward with square and shortened hands, pointed ears, stippled flesh tones. The artist's works were popular and typically, Field would create a half-length likeness for four dollars in half a day by quickly sketching out the figure using a shorthand technique. The full length likenesses of children, an elegant and less common composition among his works, begin to appear in Field's oeuvre during a trip to New Haven in 1838; the date of this work, however, is unknown.
The subject of this portrait is identified as Almira Canning Cowles, the daughter of a prominent Reverend in Field's beloved Connecticut River Valley. Born in 1824 in North Canaan, Connecticut, Almira enrolled at Troy Seminary in 1840 and later studied German and French at a school in Baltimore. Field painted portraits of three other siblings in the Cowles family, which by descent remain with the family. In 1853, Almira married Reverend Elisha Whittlesey, a pastor in Canaan, Connecticut. The young family moved to the West Indies, Europe, and Hartford, ultimately settling in Canaan.
Almira Canning Cowles holds a lustrous blue ribbon restraining her rabbit that wears a diminutive corsage at its collar. Her beautiful yet restrained face suggests the hint of a smile. She points, drawing the viewer's attention to the rabbit. Just as in European portrait painting traditions, the extra details included in a portrait carry meaning: a book, pen, sampler or jewelry to indicate wealth; this child has chosen her pet. Field developed his personal style of 'selective realism' focusing on colorful details within the work and maintaining his flat nave perspective. This portrait is a charming example of Field's personal style focusing on colorful details to enliven a purposefully humble composition and perspective.