John Smibert, Painter: With a Descriptive Catalogue of Portraits and Notes on the Work of Nathaniel Smibert

John Smibert, Painter: With a Descriptive Catalogue of Portraits and Notes on the Work of Nathaniel Smibert

John Smibert, Painter: With a Descriptive Catalogue of Portraits and Notes on the Work of Nathaniel Smibert

John Smibert, Painter: With a Descriptive Catalogue of Portraits and Notes on the Work of Nathaniel Smibert

Excerpt

More than twenty years ago, as the inevitable consequence of my search for traces of the elusive Colonial portrait painter Robert Feke, I found myself confronted with many puzzling problems in trying to determine what known or unknown artists could have painted the increasing number of eighteenth-century portraits which came to my notice. Not many persons in the nineteenth century had taken any interest in such matters; the names of only a few painters were handed down by tradition; and to those few were frequently attributed, often regardless of historical probability, any old portraits which had survived the neglect to which they were then so commonly subjected.

In New England only two painters who had worked there before the Revolution were well remembered -- John Smibert and John Singleton Copley -- for, although it was realized that a few portraits were signed "J. Blackburn," nothing was known of him and he was miscalled "Jonathan" instead of Joseph, and not even Feke's name was known to more than a very few persons. Since John Smibert, the Scot who came to America with Dean George Berkeley, was an older contemporary of Feke's who worked in the same locale in New England, it was to be expected that the older should have influenced the younger man (to a greater degree than I realized when I wrote about Feke) and that in some cases it should have been difficult to decide to which of the two a given portrait should be attributed.

My attention being thus drawn especially to Smibert I quickly discovered how little was really known about him, although William Dunlap gave some information in his valuable History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States (1834), and in 1866 William H. Whitmore discussed Smibert and Peter Pelham before the Massachusetts Historical Society, where, in 1878, he was followed by Augustus T. Perkins in a paper listing a considerable number of portraits which he attributed to Smibert or Blackburn. There was, however, no adequate account of Smibert until the publication of Professor Theodore Sizer's brief biographical sketch of . . .

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