Artifacts & Documents: Pictures and Paintings

Professor Edward Hitchcock Returning from a Journey, Robert Peckham

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Robert Peckham (1785-1877) painted this image ca. 1838. He was a Massachusetts-born portrait artist, active into the early 1860’s, best known today for his portraits of children. In this image we see Edward, having just arrived home by stagecoach, being greeted by his family. His older son, Edward, and daughter Jane are holding his hands. Daughters Mary and Catharine are next to Orra and standing in the doorway. Orra is holding son Charles. The older woman seen looking out the house window at the arrival is Orra’s mother. One wonders what is contained in the trunk being carried by a man from the stagecoach to the house. 

This family portrait is unusual. Peckham, like most folk portraitists of this era, typically posed his subjects at close range in the interiors of their homes, the better to show off the beauty and quality of their clothing, home furnishings, and other possessions, but this grouping is outside. In addition, large portraits showing many family members were unusual in the early 19th century; husband and wife were more often painted separately or as a couple with one (not all or even most) of their children. Smaller, simpler portraits were less expensive, less challenging to folk artists’ compositional skills, and more likely to fit in most homes. So this large group shows Peckham’s skill as an artist, and the painting’s large size (25 inches wide by 26 1/2 inches high) may reflect Hitchcock’s ability to pay more for a larger painting and to afford a home with an interior spacious enough to display it.

Robert Peckham, attributed
25 in x 26 1/2 in
oil on canvas
Accession #:
Courtesy of:
Mead Art Museum, Amherst College