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Portrait of Walter Adams Peirce (1838-1913)

1845
Origin: America, Massachusetts, New Bedford
Unframed: 16 1/8" x 12 1/8" and Framed: 22" X 18"
Oil on academy board, framed and glazed
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1989.100.5
Half-length portrait of a boy facing left and wearing a blue shirt with buttons and a white collar with lace edge, light brown tousers with buttons along waistline. His proper right hand extends across his waist and holds a morsel of food for a puppy held under his proper left arm. His proper left hand extends below the edge of the frame, out of the composition.
Label:William Matthew Prior was shrewd, capable, and versatile. Surviving portraits and newspaper advertisements make it clear that he adjusted his method of painting to suit customers' pocketbooks. For bargain-hunters, he worked in the so-called "flat" style represented here. Freed from the necessity of rendering painstaking modeling and shading, the artist could work quickly --- and therefore cheaply.

Prior captured three generations of a single family in the five Peirce portraits owned by the museum. In addition to this representation of Walter Adams Peirce feeding his dog, there are likenesses of Walters's parents, David R. Peirce (1806-1885) and Sarah Wilbur Peirce (1808-1871) and of David's parents, Abraham Peirce (1779-1850) and Mary Hafford Peirce (1779-1848). A bust to half-length pose that excluded hands was the cheapest option Prior offered in full-scale portraiture.

Walter Peirce was listed as the fifth of nine children in his parents' New Bedford, Massachusetts, household in the 1850 federal census, so Prior may have painted this boy's siblings, too, but if so, their likenesses have not been located. Walter was listed as a farmer living in Berkley, Massachusetts, at the time of his death.
Provenance:Currier (see "Vendor") stated that he acquired this portrait and its companions (1989.100.1 through 1989.100.4) from a descendant of the sitter: a sister of Arthur Thomas Peirce (b. 1915) of Berkley, Mass.
Inscription(s):Painted on the backboard is, "Walter A. Peirce Age 7 Yrs/By W. M. Prior" and, in pencil below this, "Born August 5, 1838".