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Ammi Phillips in Hudson, New York
The Portraits of Ashbel Stoddard and Patience Bolles Stoddard, c.1812-1813

Written by Walter G. Ritchie, Jr.


The itinerant artist Ammi Phillips (1788-1865), one of America’s most significant portrait painters of the nineteenth century, began his career as a portraitist in Massachusetts shortly before 1809.  In that year he first advertised his services in the Berkshire Reporter while staying at William Clarke’s tavern in Pittsfield for a two to three-week period, expressly for the purpose of painting portraits.  Phillips returned to the same establishment the following year and placed another advertisement, inviting the ladies and gentlemen of the area to apply to him for the painting of correct likenesses.1

Portraits from these years have yet to be discovered.  The earliest known portraits by Phillips date from 1811, when he returned to Berkshire County and boarded with Dr. Samuel Barstow and his family in Great Barrington.  Barstow, a doctor and shopkeeper who also owned a tavern, recorded Phillips’s visit in his diary, which he kept from 1809 until his death in 1813.  Three entries from August to October 1811 make reference to Phillips and the painting of likenesses of the doctor, his wife Lavinia and their three children Pluma, Charles and Oliver.  The full-length portraits of Pluma Amelia Barstow and Charles Rollin Barstow surfaced in the early 1980s; the location of the portraits of Dr. and Mrs. Barstow and their son Oliver Barstow is unknown.2  In late 1811, Phillips executed portraits of two other Berkshire County residents--Chloe Allis Judson of Sheffield and Gideon Smith, an innkeeper in Stockbridge.

The portraits from 1811 constitute an experimental period in Ammi Phillips’s career, when he was developing a formula for composition and the handling of light and mass.  Characteristics distinctive of his next phase emerge during this period, including almond-shaped eyes, full, generous mouths and an outlining of features.