Aaron D. Shattuck (1832-1928)

Aaron D. Shattuck (1832-1928)

Like John Kensett, Aaron Shattuck was a meticulous recorder of nature, whose works are almost photographic in detail.  Both painters, well known in their lifetimes, fell into the shadow of the late nineteenth-century styles then coming into vogue.  Unlike Kensett, however, Shattuck has remained somewhat obscure.  His small, intimate paintings, slightly romantic, fell out of favor, and the fact that his work was out of the public eye for almost the last half of his life contributed to his obscurity.

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Born in Francestown, New Hampshire, in 1832, Shattuck first studied painting with Alexander Ransom in Boston in 1851 and one year later moved to New York City, where he enrolled at the National Academy of Design and financed his studies with portrait commissions.  Unlike other second-generation Hudson River School artists, he did not travel abroad for further study but like his peers, he made summer sketching trips throughout the northeast beginning in 1854, stopping in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Hudson River Valley, the Berkshires of Massachusetts, and Maine, and was the first artist to journey to the small island of Monhegan, extolling its beauty to his fellow painters. His work is described as showing the influence of various schools or styles:  the Pre-Raphaelites, Hudson River and White Mountain Schools, even Luminism.  

Shattuck was named a full member of the National Academy of Design at only 29 years old, perhaps one of the youngest to be named a full Academician, and before his death at 97 he was the oldest member.  He exhibited with his fellow artists at the Boston Athenaeum, the National Academy, the Brooklyn Art Association and the Pennsylvania Academy, and often exchanged paintings with them, namely John Kensett, Jasper Cropsey, and Samuel Colman, whose sister Marian was married to Shattuck in 1860. He maintained a studio at the Tenth Street Studio building in New York, but moved with his family to Granby, Connecticut, in 1870, where he achieved success as a painter of pastoral landscapes with cattle and sheep, prize specimens from his own farm.  While painting was Shattuck’s major enterprise, it occupied him for only 34 years of his long life, until 1888, when he fell seriously ill.  Upon his recovery, perhaps of a double case of measles and pneumonia, he never painted again but turned his attention to invention (he created the Shattuck key for stretching artists’ canvases), farming and violin making, all with some success, for the remaining forty years of his life. At his death his estate was valued at over half a million dollars, reflecting his business acumen. Today, his work can be found in several museum collections including the National Academy of Design, the Brooklyn Museum, the Hudson River Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Long Island Museum of Art and the Currier Museum of Art in New Hampshire. 

References: Aaron Draper Shattuck, N. A., 1832-1928, A Retrospective Exhibition, The New Britain Museum of American Art, 1970; Monhegan, The Artists’ Island, Jane & Will Curtis & Frank Lieberman (Camden, ME: Down East Books, 1995); “Aaron Draper Shattuck,” by Eunice Agar, Art & Antiques magazine, September-October, 1982, pp. 48-55.

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