Zedekiah Belknap


was one of the most prolific and aesthetically successful rural portrait painters working in nineteenth-century northern New England. Born in Ward (now Auburn),Massachusetts, Belknap moved to Weathersfield, Vermont, with his family at age thirteen. He pursued divinity studies at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NewHampshire, graduating in 1807. His preaching career, and his marriage in 1812, were short-lived. For most of his life Belknap traveled throughout Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts in search of portrait commissions.His nearly 200 extant portraits reveal a distinctive style, characterized by striking compositions (in which he contrasted light-colored faces and costumes against dark backgrounds), heavily outlined facial features, and—a signature trait—rounded roses. Belknap’s portrait of
Miss Hannah F.Stedman
of 1836 evinces the artist’s preference for static, elegant yet severe countenances and a high-contrast palette, in this case, the sitter’s white pleated blouse set against rich red drapery.The high number of easily attributed works allows scholars to trace the career of a successful itinerant portrait painter working at the historical height of the trade.Belknap’s last known portrait dates to 1848. He entered the Chester Poor Farm in the town of Weathersfield in 1857, and died there in 1858.
See also
Painting, American Folk
D’Ambrosio, Paul S., and Charlotte Emans,
Folk Art’s Many Faces: Portraits in the New York State Historical Association.
Cooperstown, N.Y., 1987.Mankin, Elizabeth R. “Zedekiah Belknap.”
The Magazine Antiques,
vol. 110 (November 1976): 1055–1066.Rumford, Beatrix T., ed.
American Folk Portraits: Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center.
Boston, 1981