The American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) announced the promised gift of an extraordinary portrait by Ammi Phillips. The painting, Portrait of Frederick A. Gale, has been offered in honor of Peter Tillou, Jason T. Busch, Emelie Gevalt, and AFAM’s 60th anniversary by AFAM Trustee Lucy Danziger and her husband, Mike Danziger. The portrait joins several works by Phillips in the Museum’s collection and will go on view in the exhibition MULTITUDES, which will open on January 21, 2022.
“Lucy and Mike Danziger have been steadfast supporters of the Museum for decades. This generous gift from them is the most recent example of their generosity and cements AFAM’s status as the museum of record for this iconic artist, ” said Jason T. Busch, Director and CEO.
“This transcendent portrait is a masterpiece of folk painting. The luminescent work speaks to Phillips’ uncanny ability to capture the beauty of a child’s simultaneous innocence, mystery, and liveliness,” said Emelie Gevalt, Curatorial Chair for Collections and Curator of Folk Art.
Born in 1810 in Washington County, New York, Frederick A. Gale was the son of John Gale, the owner of a grist mill, and Remember Mary (Sherman) Gale. The full-scale format of the Gale portrait – coupled with its vibrant contrasting colors and set strikingly against a pale background – make this an exceptional representation of the Ammi Phillips’ earliest work, and of American painting writ large. Research suggests that the portrait is probably the last in a series of large-format, full-length paintings by Phillips of standing children. Very few comparable works exist of this quality, scale, and sheer emotional power.
The portrait reflects many of the values and social attitudes of its era. In the painting, Gale wears a “skeleton suit,” a popular style for young boys in the period consisting of a tight jacket buttoned to high-waisted trousers considered appropriate for active play. As one of the first designs made specifically for children, this ensemble speaks to changing ideas about childhood, in which children were increasingly afforded special status and were no longer conceived as miniature adults.
In his right hand, Gale holds a large hat with a bright red lining that matches his shoes – against the green suit, this is a bold combination reflecting Phillips’ love of vivid color, especially when depicting children. In his left hand, the boy holds a book, an indication of the value placed on literacy and schooling for families like the Gales as members of an aspirational middle class. As an adult, Frederick was a successful merchant with interest in stoneware and other materials.
In MULTITUDES, the Portrait of Frederick A. Gale will be on view with additional works by Phillips, including the famous Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog.
About Ammi Phillips
Ammi Phillips is an iconic 19th century folk portraitist whose lifetime traversed the early Republican period to the onset of the Civil War. His work is emblematic of the democratization of American folk portraiture when the opportunity to commission likenesses extended beyond the wealthy elite to encompass a burgeoning rural middle class. Over the course of his prolific career, Phillips painted hundreds of portraits, working in communities along the borders of New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut (his home state), adapting his approach to suit his patrons and the changing times. In the 20th century, Phillips entered the American folk art “canon” when his oeuvre was determined to include work previously attributed to the “Kent Limner” and the “Border Limner.”
About the Museum’s Gifts of Art Campaign
During its anniversary, the Museum will add works to its collection as it seeks to present an inclusive, nuanced, and meaningful story of folk and self-taught art across time and place. Ranging from notable individual objects to extensive collections, these contributions, bequests, and promised gifts will be displayed in upcoming exhibitions and will be available online.
About the American Folk Art Museum
The American Folk Art Museum engages people of all backgrounds through its collections, exhibitions, publications, and programs as the leading forum shaping the understanding and appreciation of folk and self-taught art across time and place. The Museum is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2021 and 2022.
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American Folk Art Museum