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biography of Washington ALLSTON (1779-1843)

Birth place: Georgetown, SC

Death place: Cambridgeport, MA

Addresses: mainly Boston, Cambridge, and Cambridgeport, MA

Profession: Portrait, historical, religious & allegorical painter

Studied: Harvard College; Samuel King in Newport (RI) (c.1787); Benjamin West & Henry Fuseli at the Royal Academy, London

Exhibited: Royal Acad., 1802-19; Paris Salon, 1804; PAFA, 1816-42; Boston Athenaeum; NAD, 1826-43; Harding's Gallery, Boston, 1839; Brooklyn AA, 1872; Boston (posthumously, his unfinished "Belshazzar's Feast")

Member: NA (hon. mem.)

Work: BMFA; PAFA; Detroit IA; Amherst College; AGAA; Columbia Mus. Art, SC; Fogg Art Mus., Harvard Univ.; PAFA; NGA, Wash., DC; Yale Univ.; MMA; Shelburne (VT) Mus.

Comments: One of the leading romantic painters of the 19th century. After graduating from Harvard College in 1800, Allston went to Europe (with Edward Greene Malbone), studying for the next several years with B. West and Henry Fuseli in England, and traveling through the low countries to Paris (with John Vanderlyn), Switzerland, and Italy. In Paris he painted his first major romantic work The Rising of a Thunderstorm at Sea" and in Italy he produced a series of romantic, pastoral landscapes that brought him praise from other artists. He returned to America in 1808, spent the next three years at Boston, and then went back to Europe in 1811, where he remained until 1818. While living in London Allston gained respect as one of the leading history painters, excelling particularly at Biblical subjects ("The Dead Man Restored to Life by Touching the Bones of the Prophet Elisha"). Returning permanently to the U.S. in 1818, Allston lived mainly in Boston and Cambridge, producing one major work, "The Witches of Endor," but mostly producing smaller works that took the form of lyrical landscapes and poetic, figural subjects ("The Spanish Girl," 1831, MMA). Allston's output was relatively small, however, as he was occupied with his struggle to finish "Belshazzar's Feast" (Detroit Inst.), a work begun in England in 1817 and eagerly anticipated by his American patrons. The painting remained unfinished at the time of his death. Allston was a revered figure, whose high ideals inspired many American artists, including Samuel Morse, Horatio Greenough, and Thomas Crawford. His life, as well as his painting, prose, and poetry helped shape the public's image of the artist as a romantic, creative genius.

Sources: G&W; E.P. Richardson's Washington Allston; Flexner, The Light of Distant Skies; Barker, American Painting; DAB. More recently, see Baigell, Dictionary; William H. Gerdts and Theodore E. Stebbins, "A Man of Genius": The Art of Washington Allston (1779-1843) (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1979); David Bjelac, Millennial Desire and the Apocolyptic Vision of Washington Allston (1988); Muller, Paintings and Drawings at the Shelburne Museum, 24 (w/repro.); Fink, American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons, 316; 300 Years of American Art, 85."


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