This portrait of Frederick Buxton First came to light in 1924, at an auction in Lowell, Massachusetts, as part of a group of four paintings that included his mother, Phebe, young Jeremiah Emerson, and that boy's mother, Sara Chandler Emerson. The likenesses of the boys and their mothers are further linked by identical information found on the backs of the portraits of Phebe and Sara. A paper label–affixed to a new paper backing that transcribes the inscriptions from the original backing–states: "This picture is one of a pair bought in Lowell Massachusetts. It was taken from a board with the name Buxton."
Phebe Buxton's first husband and Frederick's father, Benjamin Buxton, died on August 23, 1827, at the age of forty-seven years and four months. In the Lowell City Directory of 1832, Phebe is listed as keeper of the boardinghouse at 39 Worthen Street, which was owned by the Merrimac Corporation and housed employees who worked at the company mill. In all likelihood she had assumed this position from the time of her widowhood until January 3, 1834, when the Lowell vital records reveal that she and Timothy Baker of Londonderry, New Hampshire, filed their marriage intentions.
Evidence linking the Shutes to 39 Worthen Street was discovered serendipitously when a copy of the Lowell Directory turned up in the Lowell town office with Dr. Shute's name and that address scrawled repeatedly on the inside cover. The specifics of this notation and exactly why the Shutes would be residing there remain a mystery, since, as far as is known, these boardinghouses were exclusively for mill workers.
In this portrait, the Shutes have given us a memorable image of a thoroughly beguiling, expressive, and Winsome young boy for whom, regrettably, there is no information to continue his biography after he was painted in his sixth year. This is the only Shute likeness of a child composed with the radiating striped background that is found in many of their well-known paintings of mill girls like Emeline Parker and Eliza Gordon. Frederick reaches for the small dog at his side with the same tender gesture that is seen in the juxtaposition of Masters Emerson and Burnham and their canine companions (cat. nod. 21, 24), but his dog is truncated below the forelegs. Frederick himself is painted in a three-quarter-length pose, which is true of a number of other Shute portraits of children; virtually all the adults are confined to formalized compositions that cut off the sitter at or near the waist.
Helen Kellogg and Steven Kellogg, "Frederick Buxton," in Stacy C. Hollander, American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 388.