Their numbers are legion, their names mostly anonymous. They are the peddlers, the itinerants, the entrepreneurs—however one wishes to dignify them—who roamed up and down the northeastern seaboard of the United States during the first half of the 19th century selling their wares. Sometimes offering goods, sometimes services,
even arts and crafts, they were the backbone of the American economy,
a staple of the fledging country, a cross pollinator of the emerging culture. One of the more prestigious of the itinerant occupations was that of portrait painter. An industrious young man with only a modicum of talent who applied himself assiduously could avail himself of a good living, even to the extent of marrying and raising a family.
Portraits in this still new country were coveted items, whether acquired for status, for commemoration of a marriage, for posterity, or even for remembrance of the dead. Tragically, children's portraits, painted often from a previous likeness or from a parent's description, are especially numerous in the last category. Not all such painters remained anonymous, however. Some, because they were better artists or had more important and wider connections, or were more ambitious, or worked faster, or even lived a longer life—for whatever reason—became known by name; they acquired a distinctive identity as well as a recorded history, sketchy though the facts may often be. One such artist is Erastus Salisbury Field (1805-1900).