January 31, 2010
Ammi Phillips 1788-1865
Ammi Phillips (1788–1865), a self-taught New England portrait painter, is regarded as one of the most important folk artists of his era.
Phillips was born in Colebrook, Connecticut, and began painting portraits as early as 1810. He worked as an itinerant painter in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York for five decades.
In 1924, a group of portraits of women, shown leaning forward in three-quarter view and wearing dark dresses, were displayed in an antique show in Kent, Connecticut. The anonymous painter of these strongly colored works, which dated from the 1830s, became known as the "Kent Limner," after the locality where they had come to light.
Stylistically distinct from those of the "Kent Limner," a second group of early-19th-century paintings emerged after 1940 in the area near the Connecticut–New York border. Attributed at the time to an unknown "Border Limner," these works, dating from the period 1812–1818, were characterized by soft pastel hues, as seen in the portrait of Harriet Leavens, now in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University.
It was not until 1968 that Ammi Phillips's identity as the painter of both groups of portraits was established. Additional works were identified, showing the artist's transition from the delicate coloration of the Border period to the bold and somber works that followed. By 1976, there were approximately 400 paintings securely attributed to Phillips, who is now recognized as one of the most prolific American folk painters of his time.
His work was featured on a United States postage stamp in 1998.