American Primitive Artists: Known Artists

HBC has found a number of naive artists who are known by name. We have found a number of these artists and would be interested in any additional artists with which readers are familiar. They have produced particularly interesting portraits showing childrens' fashions during the late-18th and early-19th century. This is of course before we have photography tp create a vast record. Photography created a very accurate and low-cost way of creating portraits. The number of these primtive portrait is small compared to the future photographic record. Much of our knowledge of clothing and fashion from the 18th and early-19th century comes from these primitive artists. And while the depiction of faces may be lacking, the clothing depiction is very detiles as well as providing color information.

Blake, E.W. (United States, mid-19th Century)

This American primitive artist painted many New England portraits, providing valuable information on individual fashion in a period in which photography was just beginning to provide images.

Brewster, John (United States, 1766-1854)

John Brewster was an naive American artist. He was born in Hampton, Connecticut. He was a deaf-mute who was able to work with some success as an itinerant portraitist. He was especially noted for children's portraits. He was active in coatal areas of New England. One 1804 portrait shows a todler boy in an Empire dress.

Johnson, Joshua (United States, early 19th Century)

American primitive artist Joshua Johnson was born about 1763. He was active as an artist from 1796 through 1824. One of his best known work showing boys' clothes was of the the Westwood Children which he painted in 1807.

Moulten. L. (United States, mid-19th century)

HBC has virtually no information on this primative (naive) artist. We believe that he was American. We have one portrait done in 1853. It is of interest because it shows a boy wearing a tunic in what appears to be an early sailor style. This is one of the earliest American images that HBC has which shows that the sailor style that began in Britain had spread to America.

North, Noah (United States, 1809-1880)

American prinitive (naive) artist Noah North painted many portraits, including families and children. Although he did not master perspective well, his detailed paintings provide a good record of early 19th century fashions before photography was developed and fully developed. As with many primitive artists, there is little information available. His strongest affiliation was with New York. He often included animals in his portraits.

Figure 1.--This naive portrait has been attributed to Robert Peckham, probably painted in the 1830s. As far as twe know, the children are not identified, but based on the hair styles are a girl (red dress) and boy (green dress). Both children has lace or ruffled collars done with an oopen fiut and wear pantalettes.

Peckham, Robert (United States, 1830s-40s)

Robert Pecham (1785-1877)was a Deacon, a Radical Abolitionist and Temperance advocate. His work was largely ignored until art experts determined that several previously unatributed portraits were painted by Peckham. He is now considered to be one of the finest 19th century primitive artists. Not very many of his paintings have been found, but they are particularly detailed portraits, showcasing period fashions, toys, and houshold furnihings. We do not know why he did not do more such portraits. He clearly had natural skill, although he did not have any formal artistic training. Perhaps as a deacon, he did not believe that art was a serious enough activity. And of course over time some of his portraits nmay be lost or not attributed to him. Dale Johnson's work on 'The Children of Oliver Adams' led to the relization that several unattributed portraits were done by Peckham, including 'The Raymonf Children', 'the Hobby Horse' (figure 1), 'Rosa Heyood', and 'Charles E. Eaton and His Sister'. Naive art is commonly unsigned, but is often attribued by art historians as a result of documentation by the families of the subjects painted. The Peckham portraits are simukar to other naive work, but one art historian is struck by 'the arrting visual confrontation the eyes of the subjects make with the viewer'. And of course the attention to detail. [Johnson, p.27.] In addition to sylistic similarities, the individuals can be traced to the area around Worcester and Middlesex Massacusettes Counties where Peckham lived. And they cabn be dated to the 1830s-40s by the age of the subjects.

Phillips, Ammi (United States, 17881865)

Ammi Phullips was born in Colebrook, Connecticut (1788). He was an untrained American itinerant portrait painter who worked in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York for some 50 years. His first knwn efforts began (1809). As a result he has left us onderful collection of portrit including childrn during the early-20th century before the advent of photography. After his death as Americans relyed increasingly on photography and trained American artists emerged, Phillips was largely forgotten. This was the general trend with American naive art. He and others were forgotten for decades. This began to change in the 20th century as interest began to build in early American art. Barbara and Larry Holdridge, collectors and students of American folk art, plyed an important role and were especially interestd in Phillips. There was a problem in styudying Phillips as with other other naive artists in that almost all of his works were unsigned. Thus it was a major effort just to attribute his works. Art historian Mary Black joined in this effort. Perhaps his best known work is 'Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog' (1830-35). The titles of these naive works are created by art historians, not the artist himself. The names of the individuals are not known. At the time boys could have been dressed similarly. Here we know it ws a girl because of a center hir part and coral necklace. Another excellent portrait is 'Blond Boy with Primer, Peach, and Dog' pined about 1836. The boy in this case seems to be wearing what might be clled a tunic suit.

Prior, W.M. (United States, 1806-73)

This American primitive painter was born in was born in Bath, Maine in 1806. He advertised his painting skills in the Maine Inquirer in 1827 and 1828. Prior prepared his own canvases, ground his own paints, and with the help of his sons made some of his own frames. The artist produced some landscapes, but because of public demand, he was primarily a portrait painter. Prior's work is startling in the stlistic variations. His portraits range from near academic compositions to very primative naive works. The many portraits provide a very useful view of children's clorhes in the early 19th centuty.

Stock, J.W. (United States, 1815-55)

This American primitive artist painted many New England portraits, providing valuable information on individual fashion in a period in which photography was just beginning to provide images.

Waters, Susan S. (United States, early and mid-19th century)

This female American primitive artist painted into the mid-19th century. A painting of two brothers in rural America is a wonderful depection of children's fashions. There is often a wonderful depiction of the Lincoln children, not the president's children.


Johnson, Dale T. "Deacon Robert Peckham: 'Delineator of the Human Face Divine,'" A,erican Art Journal Vol. 11, No. 1 (January 1979), pp. 27-36.


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Created: 7:13 PM 2/23/2012
Last updated: 7:12 AM 12/16/2014