is known primarily for his small watercolor portraits on paper. He painted at least seven portraits of his grandmother, Martha Atkins Barnes (c. 1738–1834), of Middletown, Connecticut, an extraordinary woman who raised ten children and was a devout Baptist. Each of the portraits depicts her in profile, wearing ovaleyeglasses, a black dress with long sleeves, a shawl, a white cap with black bow, and either walking with a cane or sitting in a chair, often with a pipe in her mouth,and, occasionally, reading a bible. She usually is posed on what appears to be a mound or platform.Why so many similar portraits were painted is not known, although it has been suggested that they may have been painted to illustrate copies of her biogra phy,
Memoir of Mrs. Martha Barnes,
written by John Cookson, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Middletown, and published in 1834. One of the seven portraitswas found inserted as the frontispiece in a copy of the biography. It is also possible that the artist made some of the portraits as gifts for family members.Barnes, the seventh child of Elizur and Clarissa Barnes, was born in Middletown on August 1, 1819. At the age of four he injured his spinal cord, and was restrictedto a wheelchair for the rest of his life. According to his obituary, the only way he could move about was on his hands and toes. Despite his handicap, Barnes was ableto paint not only the portraits of his grandmother but also one other signed watercolor, which depicts three children and a dog adrift on an ice floe. This painting sharesthe stylistic characteristics, including the mound or platform, found in the portraits.Other members of the Barnes family also painted portraits of Martha Barnes; one is attributed to a nephew, the other to a great grandson. A third portrait, withfeatures identical to those seen in the portraits painted by Lucius Barnes, was discovered in 1997; it was painted by her granddaughter, Clarissa Barnes, LuciusBarnes’s older sister. Because she was seven years older than her brother, she may have supplied the stimulus for his painting activity.
Painting, American Folk
D’Ambrosio, Paul S., and Charlotte M.Emans.
Folk Art’s Many Faces: Portraits in the New York State Historical Association.
Cooperstown, N. Y., 1987.Rumford, Beatrix T., ed.
American Folk Portraits: Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center,
New York, 1981