Paintings by a traveling painter at The Philadelphia Show

I’ve been enjoying going through some of the press materials for the upcoming Philadelphia Show, and learning new things about some interesting art and objects. The Philadelphia Show will be celebrating its 60th Anniversary and opens on April 29th, taking place at the East Terrace of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Today’s interesting find were these two portraits that will be presented at the show by David Schorsch & Eileen Smiles American Antiques, based in Woodbury, Connecticut, where they maintain a gallery in a restored early 19th century building in the heart of the town’s historic district. The paintings, by Dr. Samuel Addison Shute (1803-1836), are titled “Isaac Orr and Mary Johnson Orr Corinth, Vermont, circa 1834, and are each 27 x 23 inch watercolor and pencil on paper.

Samuel Addison Shute portrait paintings
Portrait paintings by Dr. Samel Addison Shute (1803-1836); images courtesy of David Schorsch and Eileen Smiles American Antiques.

I wasn’t familiar with the artist Dr. Samuel Addison Shute, and was curious about the “doctor” aspect. Some research revealed that Shute was a professional physician as well as a painter. He married the artist Ruth Whittier in 1827, and here’s where it takes a turn: the two of them were a husband and wife team of itinerant portrait painters active in New England and New York State during the 1830s. My imagination first had me assuming they traveled from town to town knocking on doors and asking “would you like your portrait painted?” and that seemed like a bold and risky endeavor … would you answer your door and say to a stranger, “sure, paint me” …?

The Wikipedia page on this couple suggests otherwise, stating that they would arrive in a town, set up in a hotel, place ads in the local newspapers and offer their services to possible clients. Sometimes they would make art separately, and other times they would collaborate on the work, with Ruth laying down the original drawing and Samuel doing the painting. The Shutes had a brief but prolific artistic career that was cut short by Samuel’s death at the age of 33 in 1836. Ruth remarried and continued to travel and paint for decades.

Another interesting note: one might tend to think that having painted portraits is something generally taking place in upper class or wealthy families; however, it seems that the Shutes often painted working-class men, women, and children, quite often those who had migrated from their rural family homes to work in the textile mills that were then a strong part of the early 19th Century industrial economy of New England. Samuel and Ruth Shute were “affordable” artists, capturing likenesses of people who might otherwise never think of having a painting done. This in-depth article suggests that it was likely that few of these people owned clothes like what is depicted in the portraits. The images were illusions, a mix of the Shute’s creative invention and the sitter’s aspirations for growing prosperity and self-improvement that city jobs would provide above their previous rural lifestyle.

I like how an initial glance at these two portraits led to this brief history lesson and a new appreciation of the back story to these folk art portraits.

Check out these paintings and a wealth of other art and antiques at The Philadelphia Show from April 29th – May 1st; get more info on attending the fair here.

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