Portraits were used to shape and reflect middle-class identity in the socially fluid world of antebellum Springfield. In this self-portrait, Edward Richardson jr. depicts himself as a confident young artist surrounded by the tools of his trade, including a palette, sketchbook, penknife, and burin. This portrait probably served two purposes: as an example of Richardson’s work that he could show to prospective clients, and as a portrait of himself for posterity.
Richardson was born in England and learned to paint from his father. He emigrated to Springfield with his family around 1850, when he was 23. His father went to work as a wagon maker. Edward jr. is listed in the 1850 census as a “portrait painter,” though he likely earned the bulk of his living by working in his father’s shop and only took artistic commissions on the side. This painting represents the only known self-portrait by an antebellum Springfield artist.