Medium: oil on canvas
Date: circa 1840
Size: 25" x 30" (sight)
30" x 35" (overall)
Condition: This painting has an older but very well done wax lining on a linen canvas. It is not on its original stretchers and there is some small amount of in-painting on the dress to conceal wear.
Very few of the more than 50 portraits believed to be by Peckham are signed or otherwise documented, so attributions necessarily have been made on the basis of style and geographic or familial connections. This portrait of a comely middle-aged woman was descended from a Massachusetts family near the home of the painter
While the artist’s style may have evolved somewhat over the years, works such as this are recognizable for their distinctive quality of hard light, their sometimes “too truthful” naturalism, their crispness, and their meticulous attention to detail.
Peckham’s adult portraits are generally subdued (save for the colorful ribbons and jewelry of some female sitters) and are usually set against dark, featureless backgrounds. His relatively few portraits of children, however, are more colorful and complex with detailed interior settings.
Born in Petersham, Massachusetts, on September 10, 1785, Peckham appears to have spent most of his long life in the central part of the state. In 1813 he married Ruth Wolcott Sawyer, who eventually bore him nine children; they lived first in Northampton, where Peckham advertised his services as an ornamental and sign painter, and then in Bolton. He clearly saw himself as a portrait painter early on, for he placed this descriptor first in an 1814 advertisement listing his services. Yet his only training appears to have been a few months that he spent studying with the somewhat more established Ethan Allen Greenwood (1779–1856) in 1809 in the town of Westminster. There Peckham lived for most of his life, beginning with his purchase of land in 1820.
Peckham was appointed deacon of Westminster’s First Congregational Church in 1828, a post he would hold for 14 years. He retained the title of deacon throughout his life, even during years of controversy and estrangement from his church stemming from disagreement among the members concerning the extent of their participation in abolitionist activities. Peckham was deeply committed to the cause. According to his youngest daughter, the deacon’s home served as part of the Underground Railroad. Despite residing in the nearby city of Worcester between 1849 and 1863, Peckham retained his Westminster property and connections and remained a prominent citizen there. In 1868, on the occasion of the dedication of the memorial to Westminster’s Civil War dead (one of Peckham’s sons, Samuel Henry, served the Union and died at the infamous Andersonville Prison), the elderly Peckham delivered a tribute in verse. He died in Westminster on June 29, 1877.