WILLIAM TOLMAN CARLTON
THE YANKEE PEDDLER
oil on canvas, 36 1⁄4 x 46 3⁄4 inches,
signed "W. T. Carlton" and dated "1851" lower left
Shannon’s is pleased to present for sale the following recently rediscovered painting by William Tolman Carlton. This fresh-to-the-market painting provides new insights into Carlton’s work and 19th century American genre painting.
William Tolman Carlton was born in Boston and he grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts. There is little information known about his early life and education. There are no records for his formal artistic training either, although it is known that before 1840 he spent several years studying in Italy, Germany and France. By 1836, when he was just 20 years old he began exhibiting his paintings at the Boston Athenaeum. In Boston, he also worked as a portrait painter and private art teacher.
Carlton spent some time in Albany working as a portrait painter and returned to Boston in 1850. He worked with George Hollingsworth at the Lowell Institute teaching students to draw from living models. Both artists, Hollingsworth and Carlton, taught at the school until it closed in 1878. The courses were free and provided some students their first lessons in art. Notable alums include Alfred Thompson Bricher and Willard Leroy Metcalf.
In the 1850s Carlton exhibited several paintings at the Free Gallery of the New England Art Union in Boston. A painting titled The Yankee Peddler was exhibited twice, priced at $400. There are two known versions of this painting, including the present newly discovered example and a smaller, unsigned version at the Harvard Art Museums (1895.664). There is also a known pen and ink sketch at the MFA in Boston, The Peddler’s Cart (66.498). Theodore Stebbins, noted art historian and Curator of American Art, Emeritus of the Harvard Art Museums commented, “Now, knowing of your signed and dated picture [lot 114], I would guess that yours is the Art Union work.”
In the drawing, as in the present lot, the young woman shopping from the cart looks directly at the viewer. In the Harvard painting she is instead looking down. There are other more subtle differences between the two compositions. In the present lot, the lower right corner is much brighter, the two figures are in sunlight instead of shadow, and the central figure of the young girl is painted with more detail. The artist changed the color of her shawl from pink to yellow, and added golden embroidered details to her skirt. Likewise, the silver wares appear to be painted with more detail as well. The window frames of the cottage were changed to a white wash color, making the crimson tapestry held by the woman at the door stand out against the plain background of the house. These differences suggest that Carlton was working out the composition, possibly using the drawing as an intermediary between the two paintings.
The subject, The Yankee Peddler, was a common theme for genre paintings in the mid-nineteenth century. Other artists, notably Asher B. Durand and Francis W. Edmonds exhibited paintings of this topic at the National Academy of Design in 1836 and 1844 respectively. Viewers, particularly wealthy New York businessmen would have recognized the characters and gestures from literature and anecdotes. The two advertisements on the side of the cart, “Sands Sasaparilla” and “Dr. Brandereth’s Obstetrical Pills” refer to known medicinal scams of the period and at the window, the viewer can read “The Boston Post,” as the farmer reaches for it from the child’s hands.1
1 Hannah Blunt, “William Tolman Carlton,” in American Paintings at Harvard, Vol. I, edited by Theodore E. Stebbins, pp. 113-115.