Little is known about the life of Isaac Sheffield, yet he left a substantial body of easily recognizable work. His usual subjects, painted during the 1830s and early 1840s, were sea captains and their families from the bustling Connecticut port of New London and nearby towns.
The artist's father, Captain Isaac Sheffield, was a shipmaster who advertised his services in Stonington, New London, and Sag Harbor newspapers and was also listed in some New York city directories, although he kept his residence in New London with his wife, Betsy Sizer.
Young Sheffield, born in 1807, was listed as a "miniature painter" in New York City in 1828 and 1829 and as a "miniature and portrait painter" in Brooklyn in 1830. That year, probably because of the death of his father, the artist returned to New London, where he subsequently advertised not only portraits and miniatures, but "landscape, marine and fancy painting" as well. Although Sheffield offered a variety of pictures, most of his known works are three-quarter pose, half-length views of adults. When he died in 1845 it was noted that he had been living in the center of New London's whaling district. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
French, H. W. Art and Artists in Connecticut. Boston, 1879: 60.
Mayhew, Edgar deN. "Isaac Sheffield, Connecticut Limner." Antiques 84 (November 1963): 589-591.
Hill, Joyce. "Cross Currents: Faces, Figureheads and Scrimshaw Fancies." The Clarion (Spring/Summer 1984): 25-32.
Chotner, Deborah, with contributions by Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn. American Naive Paintings. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 341-344.