Erastus Salisbury Field grew up in the western Massachusetts village of Leverett. His family encouraged his talent, providing him with painting supplies at a young age. A newspaper later reported, “When a mere lad he developed a love for painting in oils, which became so pronounced as he advanced in years that his parents considered it wise to place their son under the instruction of some noted artist” (“Old Folks of the Country,” Greenfield Gazette and Courier, June 9, 1900). At nineteen, Field traveled to New York to study with the painter and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, who described him as “very tractable and useful.” The apprenticeship lasted only three months, when Morse’s wife suddenly died and Field returned to Leverett. He soon took to the road with his paints, traveling around Massachusetts and Connecticut. Rather than paint in the academic style he had learned, he chose to make the flat, simplified portraits that his clients preferred. During the 1840s, Field learned to operate a camera, and he would piece together daguerreotypes and copy them as group portraits. From 1841 he lived mainly in New York and expanded his work to include biblical and historical scenes, in part because these allowed him to express his staunch abolitionist views (Forsberg, “Erastus Salisbury Field: Mezzographs and Other Experiments with Photography,” in Benes, ed., Painting and Portrait Making in the American Northeast, 1995).
Luce Artist Biography