Deacon Robert Peckham (1785-1877)
Portrait of the Children of Oliver Adams, 1831, Bolton, Massachusetts. Unsigned. Oil on canvas, the four children depicted in a home in Bolton are, left to right, Joseph Sawyer (1828-1831); Frances Anne (1824-1838); Laura Ann (1826-1897); and John Quincy (1830-1837), the offspring of Oliver Adams of Petersham, Massachusetts, and his wife Zilpah Sawyer (Robert Peckham's sister-in-law) of Bolton (1); this portrait includes the Family Record that provided the birth and death dates of all the Adams children, including the previous two Olivers, who were painted posthumously by Peckham; this painting includes one post-mortem, Joseph, whose death occasioned his Uncle Robert Peckham's accomplishing this group portrait; the children stand to the right of a window and a dark nail-studded trunk with the in initials "O" (liver) "A"(dams) and to the left of a brown cradle, sight size 26 1/4 x 21 1/4 in. Condition: Very good, laid down onto Masonite, re-framed.
Provenance: Family descent to the consignors from their ancestors. The family of Oliver Adams of Bolton descended from Henry Adams of England (b. 1636), who was also the ancestor of John Adams and John Quincy Adams. The family record pictured in this portrait is enclosed in a gilt frame and lists below the parents' names the five deceased children, giving their birth and death dates. They include two Olivers, a Frances, a Joseph, and a John Quincy. This appears to be domestic art rather than academy taught. Note: Robert Peckham was born the third of six children to William Peckham and Elizabeth Knapp in Petersham, Massachusetts. His birth and marriage to Ruth Wolcott Sawyer of Bolton appear in the Petersham Vital Records. By 1815 Robert and his wife had settled in Bolton, Massachusetts, where he first owned a painting shop. They moved to Westminster in 1820. In 1828 he began his 14-year position as a deacon of the First Congregational Church in Westminster. From The Portraits of Robert Peckham, by Laura C. Luckey, it is clear that he maintained a portrait studio in Westminster, for "it was recorded in 1834 R. Peckham would respectfully inform the citizens of this and neighboring towns that he continues to pursue portrait painting, at his room over... Washburn's office. Grateful for the encouragement he has thus far received he solicits those who wish for a correct likeness to call and judge for themselves. Those who live at a distance, may, if they desire be accommodated at their own residence."2 In 1842, Peckham's support of the abolitionist movement forced his resignation as deacon. By 1850, his support caused his excommunication from the church. Contemporaries of Peckham indicated he was a portrait painter who had never received any instruction but always earned a living by his art. David Krashes suggests in his article for Folk Art magazine, "Robert Peckham: Unsung Rural Master," that the Peckham may have had several months of instruction in portrait painting from Ethan Allen Greenwood, a schooled portraitist living nearby. Peckham's paintings of children were his best. A number of characteristics distinguish his work and may be seen in this lot painted by "Uncle Peckham": a meticulously detailed background including architectural elements, which serve as an excellent document of rural New England interiors; use of bold colors for the clothing and decorative carpet; highlights on the children's hair, which is divided into bands; use of a very prominent, well-defined forehead, particularly for his children; and a lock-on gaze with the viewer. This painting was accomplished in his most prolific period, the 1830s. It led to the identification of other less well-documented paintings by Peckham. It relates to another well-documented painting, "The Peckham-Sawyer Family," which was also painted in Bolton, Massachusetts, circa 1818, according to Peckham family records. It was painted in the Sawyers' house and includes the artist¹s wife Ruth, who was holding a young son, as well as Robert, the artist. It is now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Other paintings he did are still in the general vicinity of his house,3 which still stands in Westminster, Massachusetts: the Forbush Library, Westminster; the Worcester Historical Museum; Fruitlands Museum, Harvard; and Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge. This painting is pictured on page 28 of Dale Johnson's article cited below, and on the frontispiece of the 1989 exhibit catalogue Family Record: Genealogical Watercolors and Needlework, DAR Museum, Washington, D.C. Bibliography: 1. The American Art Journal, January 1979, ³Deacon Robert Peckham: Delineator of the Human Face Divine,² Dale T. Johnson, pp. 27-36. 2. The Magazine ANTIQUES, September 1988, "The Portraits of Robert Peckham," by Laura Luckey, pp. 553-554. 3. Folk Art, vol. 21 Number 1/Spring 1996, "Robert Peckham: Unsung Rural Master," by David Krashes, pp. 39-45.