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Portrait of a Lady and Her Son

Not on view

Portrait of a Lady and Her Son

Artist: Sheldon Peck (American, 1797 - 1868)

Date: 1820-1830
Medium: Oil on wood
Overall: 31 1/2 × 25 5/16in. (80 × 64.3cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 71.51
Label Text

American folk art is a broad category that includes a wide variety of objects created by people with little or no formal training in art. These enterprising artists and craftspeople took up art making to meet the demand for goods among the new middle class in antebellum America. They learned their skills through trial and error, careful observation, or intergenerational example. The works they created seamlessly blend utilitarian and decorative concerns, achieving beauty and expressive power through their dynamic linear forms and strong colors.

Sheldon Peck became a portrait painter while living in Cornwall, Vermont, and developed a signature style that included stiff frontal poses and sharp-edged, dour facial expressions. In 1828, Peck moved to Jordan, New York, and later to Cato, where he remained until he moved to Illinois in 1836. As Peck matured as an artist, he incorporated decorative features such as painted furniture, stylized draperies, and ornamental ribbon and lace into his portraits. This pair of portraits (see 71.50) is notable for including all of these elements and for the elegant double portrait of mother and child in which the latter’s face is soft-edged and delicate, in contrast to his severe-looking parents.

Paul S. D'Ambrosio, Ph.D.

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