Gentleman in a High Collar

Gentleman in a High Collar
Many folk painters relied on their instinctive sense of design and color to create appealing likenesses despite their lack of technical proficiency. The degree of their ability to depict subjects realistically varied widely from one artist to another. For this reason, folk portraits ranged from nearly academic renderings to almost totally abstract configurations. For the most part, the works of A. Ellis represent the latter end of this scale, their linear definition exhibiting the decorative qualities that typify the most successful folk portraits. A. Ellis is an artist whose life and artistic career are almost completely obscure, despite recent research which has determined that the artist may have worked in the Readfield-Waterville area of central Maine. Many of the fifteen works currently ascribed to Ellis have been found in central Maine or portray sitters known to have lived in that region. The artist is best known for portraits executed in oil on panel with the occasional use of pencil to outline details. The extreme linear quality and bright, solid areas of color evident in Ellis' work suggest that the artist may have been more experienced in decorative painting than portraiture. This is apparent in "Gentleman with a High Collar" and "Lady with a Nosegay" (N0305.61), which are lively depictions of subjects but devoid of naturalistic form owing to the artist's inability to render anatomy accurately. The stylized faces of these subjects, drawn partly with pencil, show no sign of shading to achieve form and contour. Noses are depicted in profile and outlined with a single, thick line of paint as a continuation of one eyebrow. In addition, the artist rendered these sitters with wide open eyes, eyelids highlighted with thick white paint, an unfocused gaze, softly flushed cheeks and, in the gentleman's portrait, a mottled, undefined ear. The gentleman's formless hand and the remarkably flat quality of the lady's bent left arm are further evidence of this artist's inability to define anatomical features. Ellis's rhythmic, linear technique is apparent in the way the artist divided the lady's brown hair into sections by using white paint to separate her curls. The zigzag pattern of her dress outlined against the neutral background and the stylized treatment of her belt lend to the portrait an abstract quality of the kind so admired by modern eyes. The gentleman's portrait exhibits an appealing repetition of rolling waves of line along the outline of the shoulders and hair. The artist peculiarly aligned the mouth with the collar so that the effect created is a single unbroken line across the face forming a U-shaped chin. From Paul S. D'Ambrosio and Charlotte M. Emans, "Folk Art's Many Faces: Portraits in the New York State Historical Association," Cooperstown: NYSHA, 1987, p. 65.
Physical dimensions: 
height 26.625 in ; width 22 in