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 Susannah Paine  (1792 - 1862)

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Lived/Active: Rhode Island/Maine/Massachusetts      Known for: folk art portrait and landscape painting

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Portrait of George Morillo Bartol, Aged 6 Years 7 Months
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
An itinerant portrait painter, Susannah Paine was active in New England, especially Rhode Island and Maine.  Noted for appealing detail of her subjects such as ornate dress and coiled hair dos, she painted primarily with oil on wood but did an occasional pastel portrait.

In those days, the mid 19th century, it was very unusual for a woman to be an itinerant painter because a female traveling alone aroused suspicion.  Susanna Paine wrote a biography, Roses and Thorns, published in 1854 when she was age 61.  Addressing this issue of independence, she wrote:  "a rumor had arisen and spread in every direction...that I had absconded from my native place---leaving behind me a husband. . .and several helpless children.  The rumor resulted in gradual coldness of manner among prospective clients that temporarily halted commissions."

However, despite these obstacles, Susanna Paine achieved some success and livelihood as a portrait painter.  She was born in Rehoboth, Massachusetts and attended an art academy in Rhode Island.  She married at age twenty-seven, and the union lasted only fourteen months.  She described her husband as a "taunting, sneering surly tyrant...who enjoyed burning bibles when angry."  Three months after separation from him, she gave birth to a son while living at her mother's home.  In the divorce, she got custody of the child, but all of her property went to her husband, so she was forced to support herself.  The boy died at age eleven months, which left her pretty much alone and self described as "destitute". 

In 1823, at age thirty-one, she began her career as a traveling folk artist, gradually developing a clientele and often cultivating women who took pride in having their portrait painted by a woman artist.  She was a cautious traveler, never staying in hotels nor traveling by stage coach at night.  She moved between boarding houses only after careful inquiry and accompanied by a letter of introduction.

On December 12, 1826, she placed an ad in the Portland, Maine newspaper which read:  "PORTRAITS.  Miss S. Paine respectfully informs the public that she has taken a room at Mrs. Pritchard's in the new Brick Block, Freestreet, for PORTRAIT PAINTING---her former successes in Providence, where she has been liberally patronized, inspire her with confidence to solicit patronage; as she anticipates a very short stay in Portland, she will put her Portraits at a very reduced price, and will engage to make them to entire satisfaction, or receive no pay---those who will favor her with their patronage will please apply very soon.  Price-Oil pictures, $8.00.  Do Crayons, $4.00."

Some years into her career she expressed pride and contentment with her independence and success, writing: "I was enabled to dress as I chose. . .and for once, in my life, indulged my tastes, however expensive. . . .Many declared they never saw so happy a temperament as mine."

Michael R. Payne and Suzanne Rudnick Payne, "A woman could paint a likeness?", The Magazine Antiques, January 2009

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