Portrait of Roger Sherman, by Ralph Earl

“As a preeminent portraitist of the early republic, Earl provides some of the most memorable images of the turbulent era. His portrait of Roger Sherman is considered his masterpiece. It commemorates Sherman’s service as a member of the First Continental Congress, from which he had just returned. Sherman sits in an austere interior on a simple green Windsor armchair of a regional type found in Philadelphia. The plain-fringed muslin cravat and the garnet color of his conservative suit would have been considered old-fashioned. The sitter’s lack of a wig and of shirtsleeve ruffles completes the sober costume. Many American men dispensed with wigs and ruffles as a deliberate rejection of European aristocratic styles and values.”
-courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery: (description) “Yale University Art Gallery Selections,” by Alan Shestack, 1983. “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery,” by Helen A. Cooper, 2008. “Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic” by Mark David Hall, 2013. (image) “Roger Sherman, oil on canvas,” by Ralph Earl, ca. 1775

“The portrait of Sherman is a masterpiece of photographic authenticity – such a conclusion is inescapable to one who has gone through the records of his life. It fits in with everything we know about him. It is utterly devoid of the indications of extravagance and wealth… Sherman is seated in a plain Windsor chair in the corner of an unadorned room. His awkward posture is that of a self-conscious farmer. His clothes are plain and ill-fitting. His muscular wrists project awkwardly beyond his coat sleeves, and are quite devoid of lace ruffles. His coat, waistcoat, and tight-fitting knee-breeches are without ornament of any kind. In his rugged face there is not the slightest suggestion of sophistication or fine living. It is the face of a Connecticut yeoman endowed with a superior intelligence, and is as square and honest as his blunt leather shoes.

Sherman’s hands are large, his fingers blunt and muscular. He grasps his leg tightly. One feels that this is a stroke so accurate that a photograph could not improve upon it. Sherman’s hands had pegged shoes, measured rum, grasped plow handles, and wielded a hammer to the mellow clanging of a blacksmith’s anvil. But they became cumbersome and embarrassing when empty or idle. Yeoman’s hands have always been so.”
-excerpt from “Roger Sherman: Portrait of a Cordwainer Statesman”, by Julian P. Boyd, published in The New England Quarterly, 1932

“An oil portrait of him was painted by Ralph Earle in 1775. It is life-size and represents him seated in a chair. This portrait is interesting and valuable because it was painted the year before the signing of The Declaration of Independence, when he was 54 years old. It is probably the one listed in the inventory of his estate at a value of 1-4 shillings. During his life and until after the death of his son Roger in 1856, it was kept in the Sherman house on Chapel Street, New Haven. It became the property of his grand-daughter Martha, Mrs. Henry White. About 1868 it was repaired in Boston and transferred to a new canvas. After this it was kept in Mrs. White’s residence, 258 Church Street, New Haven, until after her death in 1888. She bequeathed it to her son Roger Sherman White, and it was removed to Number 87 Trumbull Street, New Haven, the residence then of Charles A. White and now of Roger Sherman White, where it remained until in January, 1918, he presented it to Yale University. The President and Fellows of Yale University on Jan. 21, 1918, adopted a resolution as follows: “Voted to extend the thanks of the University to Roger Sherman White for the gift of a portrait of his great-grand-father, Roger Sherman, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and Treasurer of Yale College from 1766 to 1776, painted by Ralph Earle.” In Apr.-May, 1918, it was taken to New York City and restored and renovated by Mr. H. A. Hammond Smith, expert restorer, and now hangs in the Yale University Memorial Dining Hall. Several copies of it have been painted, one of them by William Hicks, for the Hon. William M. Evarts, who presented it to Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It has also been etched and photographed.”
-Excerpt courtesy of Google Books, “Sherman Genealogy Including Families of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, England: Some Descendants of the Immigrants, Captain John Sherman, Reverend John Sherman, Edmund Sherman and Samuel Sherman, and the Descendents of Honorable Roger Sherman and Honorable Charles R. Sherman,” by Thomas Townsend Sherman, 1920

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