Of the hundreds, if not thousands, of portraits that itinerant American folk artist Ammi Phillips painted during his career from the early 19th century to the Civil War, his portraits of young people are the most beloved. Children’s faces are a fraction of those Phillips recorded, but when he did, they were some of the liveliest, with subjects wearing brilliant colors like red and green instead of black. austere edged with lace.
Museums that hold Phillips’ portraits of children (including the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Harvard Fogg Museum, and the Clark Art Institute, among others) tend to prioritize to their exposure, often to the detriment of his portraits of adults. . The American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) in New York City is no exception and will debut Portrait of Frederick A. Gale (around 1815) in MULTITUDES, an exhibition marking its 60th anniversary which opens on January 21. This is the eleventh painting by Phillips to join the museum’s permanent collection, making it one of the most important institutional collections of his work; it will be installed alongside another popular portrait of the artist, Girl in red dress with cat and dog (1830-35).
Portrait of Frederick A. Gale was donated to the museum by collectors Lucy and Mike Danziger (she sits on the museum’s board of directors). Their donation was made “for the purpose of strengthening the museum’s ability to tell a multiplicity of important stories, not only about Phillips as an artist, but also about the importance of the American vernacular portrait as a form of art and which became more and more accessible ”, specifies the curator of AFAM, Emelie Gevalt.
“[Gale] represents a sort of archetypal portrait painter to Ammi Phillips, who has made her career depicting families and booming middle class individuals in rural areas where New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts meet, ”says Gevalt. Frederick and his sister Mary Elizabeth, both of whom were painted by Phillips in bold, full-length format, were the children of a flour mill owner. “We have a good idea of the ambitious qualities of the babysitter,” Gevalt explains, pointing to the book under Gale’s left arm, indicating the value his family placed on education.
Portraits of Phillips began to gain the attention of curators and academics in the mid-20th century, and interest eventually translated into the art market. According to independent researcher David R. Allaway, who compiled a catalog of Phillips’ work, Portrait of Frederick A. Gale was last offered for public sale at the 2007 Winter Antiques Show, where it was reportedly sold for $ 2 million.
“There is no such thing as a sweet or overly sentimental quality, and the artist manages to really capture that beautiful sense of innocence without being cloying,” Gevalt says of the painting. “He gives children this quality of mystery even though they have this pain too.”
- Multitudes, January 21-September 5, American Folk Art Museum, New York