A separation between the public and private spheres of family life is carefully maintained in this tiny gem. Drawn with extraordinary precision, the front of the portrait is carefully inscribed with the legend “Walter Chandler, Æ 21 months. Painted by his father in the year 1850.” The reverse offers a different level of information, and one intended for the eyes of the nuclear family alone. Written in pencil is a sentiment that touches on the intimacy of a man and wife and the memory of generations: “To my dear wife. This little sketch of our first born, a tribute of fondest love and affection, was painted in Elizabethtown, N. Jersey; the room being the same, in which his dear Sister “Maggie” was, soon after, born, and dear Grandfather subsequently died.”
Tiny Walter Jr. (1848–1924) is finely dressed as though he is in fact sitting for his portrait. Although photographs were available by the time this was made, the artist chose to describe his son with the insight only he could capture, yet the depiction is on the scale of a daguerreotype. The miniature size also relates it to the earlier tradition of miniature portraits in lockets, again intended for the private appreciation of a loved one. The painted medium allowed the father to show the child actively engaged in pushing his grain-painted wheelbarrow across a room filled with furniture that appears exaggeratedly large, emphasizing the little boy’s age.
Walter Jr. worked in Manhattan as an insurance broker and remained in Elizabethtown until 1905, when he moved to New York City. Eventually, he became manager of Equitable Life Insurance Company, at 120 Broadway.
Stacy C. Hollander, “Walter Chandler, Æ 21 months,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.