Here's another one of those folk artists whose work is so recognizable that there is no debate over attribution when an unsigned piece shows up on the market. Zedekiah Belknap is well known in folk art circles but not so much among the general art-viewing public. He worked mainly in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont between 1807 and the late 1840s as an itinerant portrait painter.
Belknap may not have originally intend to paint portraits for a living. In his youth, he actually entered divinity school at Dartmouth College in the hopes of becoming a minister. He graduated in 1807, and did preach for a few years, although he was never ordained. He began to paint portraits the same year he graduated from Dartmouth.
He didn't have much luck in his married life. Belknap married Sophia Sherman in Waterville, Maine in 1812, but she terminated the marriage shortly after. It seems that Belknap's relatives frightened her. Many of them were afflicted with a hereditary hip disease that left them limping.
Over the course of his forty-one year painting career, Belknap is known to have painted at least 170 portraits. They all have one thing in common, at least to my eye. Yes, it's the noses. All of Belknap's sitters, male and female, young and old, have the same bulbous nose outlined in a thick, reddish line of paint. The Fenimore Art Museum's "Two Children with a basket of Fruit," painted about 1830, is a great example of his work. I particularly like how the rounded forms of the fruit in the basket echo the two very prominent noses in this portrait. Those noses are better than any signature.
Belknap's bad luck continued throughout his lifetime. In 1857 he entered a Poor Farm near Weathersfield, Vermont and died there the following year. His delightful paintings form a legacy that belies the difficulties he endured in his 76-year life. It's both a pleasure and a relief that we never have to argue over whether any of them are really his.