A COMMON CONVICTION; A CENTURY APART
It may be difficult to consider parallelism between two artists as separated by time and tradition as Erastus Salisbury Field and Alice Neel. Yet parallelism is exactly the tenet of a groundbreaking exhibition opening July 5 at the Bennington Museum, “Alice Neel/Erastus Salisbury Field: Painting the People.”
Erastus Salisbury Field was born in 1805 in Massachusetts, where he lived for most of his life. Like Alice Neel, Field found his way to Greenwich Village, where he developed his skills in portraiture. Field made his early living as a limner, but portraiture occupied the vast majority of his early and middle years.
Following the death of his wife, Field returned to Massachusetts where his bucolic country life did not diminish his political fervor and passion for social justice. He was an outspoken abolitionist. “Historical Monument of the American Republic,” begun in 1867 and completed in 1888, was considered his magnum opus, depicting allegorical structures representing key events in American history.
A photoengraving of this colossal work is included in the Bennington exhibition. Field’s shift from portraits to symbolism in landscape was due at least in part to the emergence of portrait photography, which began to supersede painting as the desirable choice for commissioned likenesses.