ELLSWORTH, JAMES SANFORD
was a prolific painter who was born and died in Hartford, Connecticut. He painted miniature watercolor portraits and several oil on canvas likenesses in Massachusetts,Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and claimed to have traveled to New York State, Pennsylvania, and as far west as Ohio. More than threehundred works by Ellsworth have been identified.Ellsworth married Mary Ann Driggs in 1830 and the couple had one child. His wife alleged that Ellsworth deserted her three years after their marriage, which endedin divorce in 1839. Itinerant painting often required extended periods of travel in search of commissions, and this probably made it difficult for some artists to establishor maintain relationships.Ellsworth’s earliest watercolor portraits show sitters in frontal or three-quarter poses. Two portraits from 1835 depict a boy and a girl painted full-length andstanding in a landscape, while a portrait of a gentleman displays Ellsworth’s ability to create a semi-academic, polished likeness. By about 1840 he intro duced astylized format that he varied throughout the remainder of his career. Often signed, these watercolors, on thin woven paper, incorporate half-length profile poses, withsubjects often holding books, flowers, or other props. A gray, cloudlike aureole surrounds the head and separates the face from the lighter background, while another encloses the bottom of the figure. One variant places subjects in rococo-revival upholstered armchairs, and swags and columns are sometimes included in the background. Several later portraits were made on larger sheets of pink paper, with an oval spandrel framing the sitter. Ellsworth consistently painted finely detailed, carefully modeled, and delicately colored faces that revealed theindividuality and character of the sitter.During the 1850s Ellsworth painted some of his portraits on decorative, embossed paper, and he framed some of them in the commercially available stamped brassmats used for daguerreotypes. His use of these mats shows the inroads that photography was making into Ellsworth’s portrait business, and his efforts to make hiswork appear up-to-date.Six signed oil portraits by Ellsworth are known. Aesthetically less interesting than his watercolor miniatures, the oils are for the most part indistinguishable from thescores of portraits painted by artists of nominal ability who worked during the 1840s.
Miniatures; Painting, American Folk;
Mitchell, Lucy B.
The Paintings of James Sanford Ellsworth: Itinerant Folk Artist, 1802–1873.
Williamsburg, Va., 1974.Lipman, Jean, and Tom Armstrong, eds.
American Folk Painters of Three Centuries,
New York, 1980