In the 19th century, a number of popular portraitists worked in watercolor, creating small-format likenesses that were more affordable and efficiently executed than large, slow-drying works of oil on canvas. The artists seen here and in the adjoining gallery each developed distinct formulas for representing a multitude of patrons:
New Englander Joseph Davis consistently showed his sitters in profile, creating a sense of shared taste through the use of brightly patterned rugs and grain-painted furniture, both prevalent in households of the time.
Spouses Samuel and Ruth Shute developed a system for working together: she created the drawings while he executed the coloring. The couple produced many works for girls and young women laboring in New England textile mills, where there was a ready market for portraits offered at an affordable price.
German-born immigrant Jacob Maentel, on view in the next gallery, painted a number of his neighbors in Southeastern Pennsylvania, often depicting married couples on two separate sheets of paper but uniting them through contiguities of scale and spatial division.