William Williams Cowee with Flute

William Williams Cowee with Flute
The skill with which Peckham rendered these portraits (see N0301.61) supports the evidence that he had some academic training. With the exception of the subject's flesh tones, their brown hair, the woman's dark brown eyes and the tawny background, these two portraits are painted almost exclusively in black and white. The contrasting effect proves successful as the woman's carefully decorated white collar and the man's white shirt ruffle draw the viewer's eye to their faces and away from their somber black clothing. Peckham characteristically modeled the facial features to convey three-dimensional form and highlighted the pupils with a single dab of white paint placed slightly off center in the top right of each iris. An unusual feature of Mrs. Cowee's portrait is the artist's pronounced delineation of her skull, conveyed by shaded contour at her temples. Curiously, with this exception, he seems to have reserved this technique for his portraits of children. Peckham adeptly foreshortened Mrs. Cowee's left hand as she holds open a music book, and convincingly painted Mr. Cowee's hands so that he wraps his fingers dexterously around his flute. When acquired, these portraits were thought to be likenesses of Mr. And Mrs. William Cornee. This identification was based upon somewhat illegible inscriptions appearing on pieces of paper once attached to the backing boards of these portraits, but no longer extant. Research indicates, however, the subjects are more likely to be Mr. And Mrs. William Cowee, as a son named William was born on February 12, 1805 to James and Susanna Cowee of Gardner, Massachusetts, a town located near Westminster. William's cousin, Susan Cowee Doty, her husband, Timothy Doty, and their child were also painted by Peckham about the time these portraits were rendered. The prevalence of the Cowee name throughout this area of Massachusetts, the absence of a William Cornee in local records, and the similarities in spelling between Cowee and Cornee all seem to substantiate this theory. 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, pp. 124-125.
Physical dimensions: 
height 32.5 in ; width 26.125 in